During the Budget debates, the AFC had APNU just where and how it wanted it: around its middle finger and hanging from a string. Since the elections of 2011 the AFC has skillfully manipulated APNU and used it to achieve its ends.
The AFC was not interested in compromise over the Budget; neither was the government. The PPPC has always operated on the basis that it enjoys sovereign responsibility for the management of the financial affairs of the country, a position that it felt was reinforced by a ruling from the Chief Justice that the Opposition in the National Assembly can either reject or approve the Budget in its entirety but cannot cut the Budget.
Armed with this understanding, the government was unwilling to concede any ground when it came to the 2013 Budget.
Based on this unwillingness to concede any ground, APNU’s objectives would have been better served by simply not approving the Budget in its entirety. This would have at least forced the government into negotiations as it did last year when the main Opposition party was able to wrest significant concessions from the government, all of which came to nothing after APNU was lured into a trap by the AFC.
Last year, APNU showed a willingness to negotiate a compromise over the Budget. In fact ever since the last elections, it indicated a willingness to have a tripartite process over the Budget. APNU also this year wrote the President on talks about the Budget and it is therefore obvious that it was always open to negotiations with the government.
Despite the intransigence of the government, it remained in APNU’s interest to reject the Budget in its entirety and therefore bring the government to the negotiating table where it could have wrested concessions from them.
Instead it opted to go the way of the AFC in claiming that it had a right to cut the Budget. But what compromises were achieved by cutting estimates from the Budget? Who wins and who loses when the Budget is cut? APNU did not gain any ground on this score, and in fact if as anticipated the cuts are restored, APNU loses corn and husk.
It should not have allowed itself to be led along by the AFC. The AFC was not interested in wresting any concessions from the government. The AFC was not interested in compromise. If it were, it would have gone a different route on the question of what the Opposition can do in the Committee of Supply.
It would have been far more advantageous to the AFC for it to adopt the position that the Chief Justice was right and that the Opposition had no power to cut the , but can only approve or reject it in its entirety. It should have then rejected the Budget in its entirety.
The only option that would have then been available to the government would have been to come to the negotiating table and amend the Budget to take into consideration the demands of the Opposition.
The AFC was however, never interested in such a position. It had two objectives in mind. The first is to strengthen its political position in relation to both APNU and the PPPC.
It ensured this year that APNU was not going to go it alone by locking that party into a corner from which it cannot retreat. APNU can never now exercise the option of rejecting a Budget in its entirety. It has weakened its own position in relation to negotiating with the government.
It matters not that the government was inflexible. The government would have had to become more flexible if the Budget was rejected. The 10 per cent preliminary increase in wages for workers, a further increase in old age pensions, a review of the NIS, GPL and GUYSUCO, and increased subventions for the University of Guyana, all went down the drain because instead of forcing the PPPC to the negotiating table where it would have had to this time make concessions, APNU allowed itself to be outfoxed by the AFC into supporting Budget cuts.
In those cuts, the AFC revealed its true objective. The AFC was not into paring fat or promoting greater transparency and accountability. It wanted to slash some of the major projects. This was its ultimate objective.
It wanted to punish the PPPC for daring to go ahead with the Marriott Hotel Project and it was unconcerned about the collateral damage that it inflicted such as when its cuts of the airport project also affected other proposed expenditure.
There will never be a hydroelectric facility in Guyana, nor the airport be improved. Nor will there be a specialty hospital. The AFC says that it was trying to prevent the government from incurring a heavier debt, as if these projects would not have allowed Guyana to reduce its balance of payments and improve its debt sustainability by the returns they would have yielded.
It is crystal clear to everyone what the AFC is after and whose interests it was serving by cutting major projects. As for APNU it came out empty- handed as it opted to play second fiddle to the AFC, the second time it has allowed itself to be outsmarted by the AFC.
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