Feb 22, 2021 News
Kaieteur News-Findings following independent research conducted by Kaieteur News show that the budgetary allocations to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) have jumped five times more since 2015, with little accountability to show.
Budget Estimates from 2015 to 2021 seen by this publication reveal that the Commission would have received over $900M in those seven years, with a significant increase in the allocations being given every year, except for 2017.
In 2015, the Commission received an allocation of $43.1M and in 2016, its allocation almost doubled, amounting to $81.4M. In 2017, the allocation was lowered to $50.5M but in the following year of 2018, it more than doubled to $115.7M. The allocations for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021 were $175.1M, $220.1M and $227.5M respectively.
The ERC is a non-political body that was established on March 8, 2002, and serves to promote ethnic harmony and security in Guyana. It comprises representa
tives from religious bodies, labour movements, and the private business sector. It was reconstituted on February 22, 2018, and saw the swearing-in of 10 new commissioners by former president David Granger.
Upon its establishment, the Commission was adequately funded, but over the years there has been minute accountability of the public funds, which it was provided.
Moreover, one of the Commissioners, Haji Roshan Khan, recently called for an audit as he highlighted alleged mismanagement occurring with the State funds. He is of the firm conviction that an audit is needed to expose key areas where significant value leakage is taking place. He had stated that, “I would like a serious government audit” and if possible, a direct audit from the Auditor General’s Office.
In a letter published in Kaieteur’s February 15 edition, Khan had said,“…In its current state, I am of the opinion, like most Guyanese, that the ERC has been a total letdown to the Guyanese nation and is not deserving of the funds they receive. In my opinion, they have accomplished very little. I believe what was done was insignificant and extremely limited to what could have been achieved.”
He further claimed that Commissioners sought to grant themselves Christmas bonuses of $150,000 which was contrary to the government’s advisory of a $25,000 Christmas bonus for persons in statutory bodies. As he referenced more unjust spending, Khan said some wanted risk allowances to fly on planes and go in the jungles, high-quality boots to go in jungle terrains, which were hardly used. Commissioners were also given out-of-town allowances and received a good salary for mere “part-time work”.
This publication had also asked Khan why the ERC’s spending is not properly audited and why Budget Estimates show little to no information on what the large yearly allocations cater for, to which he responded that the Chairman, Reverend John Smith, needs to answer.
However, it must be noted that in 2015, the former coalition government had amended the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, which allowed constitutional agencies like the ERC to have independence with their allocations. Before the 2015 amendment, constitutional agencies had their budgetary allocations placed under scrutiny by their subject Minister.
The coalition’s amendment to Article 222 (a) had read, “in order to assure the independence of the entities listed in the third schedule, the expenditure of each of the entities shall be financed by the direct charge of the consolidated fund determined as a lump sum by way of an annual subvention approved by the way of the National Assembly, after a review and approval of an entity’s annual budget as part of the process of determination of the national budget.”
The PPP government recently moved to yet again amend the Act stating that the coalition’s amendment has removed billions of dollars from Parliamentary scrutiny that by law could only be spent after scrutiny.
Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Ashni Singh, during the tabling of the Bill said, “The amendment (the coalition’s) laid out a two-stage process whereby the budget of the constitutional agencies would be brought to the National Assembly, considered and approved by the Assembly, and incorporated into the national budget, which would subsequently be submitted to the House for consideration, at which time the budget of the constitutional agencies, would not be reconsidered, but would form part of the national budget.”
His amendment has removed that two-step process and now allows for a single process of submission to the National Assembly since the Bill has been passed.
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