Aug 07, 2017 News
Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland on Friday disallowed an attempt by Member of Parliament, Anil Nandlall to question government about the rental of houses for Ministers.
Nandlall presented a series of questions without notice.
But the questions were disallowed by the Speaker on the grounds “that they were not urgent and did not relate to the business of the sitting of the House.”
Nandlall told this newspaper that he views this as “Another exhibition of the Speaker exercising undue censorship over opposition’s right to question and scrutinize Government’s spending.”
Nandlall’s questions were titled “Expenditure on Rental of Ministers’ Residences.” They were directed to Minister of Finance Winston Jordan.
Nandlall sought to have Jordan inform the National Assembly which, if any, of the housing rental contracts for ministers were considered or approved by the Ministry of Finance and or the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB). He also asked that Jordan provide the House with the relevant documentation on the approvals of the ministry or NPTAB on these matters.
Nandlall questioned, too whether the government’s policy on the rental and rates of accommodation for ministers was/is guided by fiscal availability and budgetary considerations, as well as, which agencies’ budgets in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets made provision for the expenditure and under which sub-heads.
“There is no question about its availability or applicability; no question of time being an issue. It was properly presented at the time it was presented. The question is important; the question of ministerial accommodation has attracted attention far and wide and certainly is one that I believe continues to attract comment and attention” said Dr. Scotland. But he then explained that those points are simply not enough to satisfy Standing Order 18:3, which governs questions without notice. Standing Order 18:3 calls for questions without notice to be urgent and important or relate to the business of the day. Scotland told the House that though important, the questions failed to qualify as urgent or related to the business of the day.
The State is paying five hundred thousand rents for two junior Ministers of Government, Simona Broomes and Valarie Patterson. Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs, who manages the Parliament Office, said that it is the Parliament Office that is footing the bill. He said that it was an Administrative decision to rent the houses at $500,000.
Many, including the People Progressive Party/ Civic opposition and the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) which is part of the governing coalition, have condemned the rental.
WPA thinks that the rental of two $500,000 houses for two junior ministers of government is “immoral” and “unconscionable.”
WPA’s Chair, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley said that the issue of lavish spending on Government functionaries is one that dogged the previous government and which was correctly condemned by the then opposition parties.
Sarabo-Halley said that it is therefore a matter of grave concern when similar practices seem to be creeping into the behavior of the present government.
The WPA Chair said that while the party does not object to government ministers being compensated at levels befitting their office, “We strongly object to the super-salaries and other compensation that seem to have become the norm in Guyana.”
She told the media too that the WPA cannot, in all conscience, defend and support Gvernment payment of half a million dollars rent for ministers, especially when placed against the 50% rise in salary that was given to ministers in 2015. It borders on government splurging of taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Sarabo-Halley said that if ministers are being paid healthy salaries, enjoy the usual perks that come with the office and get their rent paid at $500,000 per month, then that amounts to enrichment at the expense of government. “It was wrong under the PPP and it cannot be correct now.”
She said that the WPA has always felt that the APNU+AFC government must distinguish itself from the PPP on these and other matters pertaining to management of government resources.
Sarabo-Halley continued, “WPA wishes to draw to our government’s attention that at a time when we bemoan a huge gap between the rich and the poor, it is inexcusable for us to be paying a monthly rent for ministers that amounts to approximately six times that of the monthly salary of the average public servant.”
She said that while the WPA agrees that the $25,000 housing allowance for ministers may be inadequate, the party absolutely feels that $500,000 is far beyond reasonable. “We therefore call for an immediate review of the unhealthy policy of paying mega rent for ministers.”
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