Apr 03, 2013 News Comments Off on Debates underway in National Assembly…2013 Budget is unconstitutional – APNU
– seeks to realise Guyanese dreams – Govt.
By Keeran Danny
“Sleight of hand” and “little tricks” were phrases used by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Member of Parliament Carl Greenidge to describe the 2013 Budget, which he claims is “unconstitutional and does not cater for the poor”.
But, Government believes that the $208.8B Budget fulfills the dreams of ordinary citizens and seeks to enhance health, education, and transform the economic landscape of Guyana, which has been experiencing positive growth.
These were the arguments that set the stage for the commencement of the 2013 Budget debates in the National Assembly that are expected to continue over the next two weeks. Already, on the first day of the debates heckling filled the atmosphere, a power outage interrupted proceedings and the Speaker was forced to call an adjournment for about five minutes.
Apparently, both sides of the House could not agree on the length of time Greenidge was permitted to speak, and to avoid what was turning into an intense row, the Speaker adjourned the proceedings for a decision to be made. Greenidge was allowed an extra 15 minutes to conclude, giving him 75 minutes speech time.
According to Greenidge, APNU would not support the Budget because it is unconstitutional in its current form. He argued that the estimates need to be prepared differently with monies being allocated for individual Constitutional Offices.
The only Constitutional Office that has ‘lump sum’ monies allocated in the Budget is the Ethnic Relations Commission. In addition, several Constitutional Offices such as the Ombudsman remained unfilled.
Greenidge referred to Article 222 (A) of the Laws of Guyana which states, “…the expenditure of each of the entities shall be financed as a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund, determined as a lump sum by way of an annual subvention approved by the National Assembly after a review and approval of the entity’s annual budget as part of the process of the determination of the national budget.”
Greenidge related that Guyana is confronted by an Administration that has consistently flouted the requirements of the Constitution and the presentation of the budget in this form is asking the Opposition to “join in breaking the law”.
Though, not rejecting resources for the Office of the First Lady, he said that it seems that Government’s priorities are skewed. Since that allocation did not cause a crisis at the Ministry of Finance, providing monies for the Constitutional Offices should have been reflected in the Budget, he added.
Continuing his arguments about Government utilising monies from extra-budgetary agencies, Greenidge said that reports on the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Lotto Fund, Cricket World Cup, NICIL and Carifesta, are still to be laid in the National Assembly. He related that the reports were expected to be presented to the House in February 2012. Moreover, funds from these entities should have been channelled to the Consolidated Fund.
Greenidge, APNU’s Shadow Finance Minister, also took a jab at the 16 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) which Government did not alter, despite appeals. He related that APNU is still waiting for the recommendations that were supposed to be submitted by a committee established by the President to review the tax system, particularly VAT.
According to Greenidge, the view of Government is that VAT is attached to luxury items and is burdened on the rich. Therefore, the poor should be grateful for that. However, he read a letter by Red Thread, a Non-Governmental Organization, highlighting how foodstuff such as macaroni and necessary household items attract VAT.
He emphasised that VAT has not made the system equitable, instead it is regressive. Greenidge argued that Government failed to implement the second stage that was expected to cushion the implementation of VAT. He noted that following the implementation of VAT other taxes were expected to be adjusted.
Meanwhile, in response, Housing and Water Minister and PPP Member of Parliament, Irfaan Ali, described Greenidge’s speech as mere rambling. He argued passionately that the Budget seeks to realise the Guyanese dreams, enhance their lives and is “the embodiment of hope”.
Ali contended that Greenidge failed to realise that the 16 percent VAT replaced the 30 percent consumption tax. He further argued that over the past seven years the economy has registered strong positive growth, averaging 4.5 percent between 2007 and 2012.
“It is noteworthy that economic expansion over the past seven years was accompanied by marked improvement in our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita…The GDP per capita increased from US$1,694 in 2006 to US$3,148 in 2012,” he emphasised.
Quoting from the World Bank, Ali said that while there have been threats to the United States economy and a struggle by European countries, Guyana’s economy is projected to grow by 5.6 percent during 2013.
He argued that the budget is “for the people” and this is reflected in the $52.2B allocated to further enhancing the quality of human capital. This sum includes $19B for the health sector, $28.7B for the education sector, and $4.5B investment in the Information, Communication and Technology sector.
According to Ali, the Budget also proposes additional reforms to the financial sector and $370M for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises. Government is making efforts to improve the cost and ease with doing businesses.
He emphasised that making housing accessible is also a priority of Government. Of a total of 216 squatting settlements, 171 areas are currently being regularised. Forty-five (45) areas have been listed as zero tolerance and approximately 800 households are still to be relocated. Meanwhile, thousands of house lots have been allocated to citizens.
However, APNU Member of Parliament, Keith Scott commented that citizens have to sometimes pay a minimum of $500,000 per house lot, and the price is inflated for those who live aboard. He stressed that Guyana’s population is small and as such land should be easily accessible.
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