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Gov’t, opposition divided over date for examining budget estimates

parliamentbuildingGovernment and the combined opposition are Tuesday expected to continue negotiations to mend a rift over whether the National Assembly should begin examining 2013 budgetary allocations from Wednesday or next week Monday.

The opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change say they want more time to examine the GUY$208.8 billion budget which they intend to cut in a number of areas.

A meeting of the House’s Business Sub-Committee on Monday failed to resolve the issue with government insisting that the Committee of Supply should begin ‘line-by-line’ consideration of the estimates of expenditure one day immediately after the budget debate wraps up.

If the issue is not resolved at the level of the Business Sub-committee, it will be taken to the 65-seat Assembly where the combined opposition intends to use its one-seat majority to push back the consideration of the estimates.

The state-run Government Information Agency (GINA) has already quoted Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh as appealing to the opposition to forestall the budget process.

GINA said he called on all parties to “ensure that the budget estimates are considered and approved in the shortest possible time, in order to ensure that the benefits of the budget can start to be felt by all Guyanese.”

Opposition Leader and APNU Chairman, David Granger said coming out of the 2012 Budget experience, his 26-seat coalition wanted to give his technical team more time to study the estimates.

He said government has a clear advantage in its access to data, experts and enjoyed sufficient time to prepare the fiscal package. “We have not had any of these advantages and we have been asked in a very limited period of time to debate with the government and we have simply asked for sufficient time to consult our experts and to seek the information that we asked the government to provide to enable us to interpret the data in the estimates correctly,” said Granger.

With negotiations expected to continue during Tuesday, he hoped that the government would give in to the opposition’s request. Granger said based on the 2012 budget debate and consideration of the estimates the opposition was “now better prepared, we are now better informed and we are now better prepared to make representation.”

AFC Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan argued that more time should be given before the estimates are considered because AFC MP Dr. Veerasammy Ramaya would be engaged in a religious activity in honour of his recently deceased wife, the funerals for late government ministers Reepu Daman Persaud and Dr. Dale Bisnauth, the hospitalization of APNU MP Richard Allen and the need to examine the estimates in greater detail. While APNU is said to be exploring replacing Allen some time Tuesday, Ramjattan said his party would be uncomfortable replacing Ramaya- a decision that should be made by the party’s executive.

But government Chief Whip Gail Teixeira lashed back, saying that the funerals would not affect the time-table for consideration of the estimates, the opposition had enough time to study the estimates and Allen’s absence from the National Assembly due to illness was not an issue.

“I’m sorry that he is sick. It could happen to any of us. Life goes on. It sounds cold but it does,” said the veteran politician.She said government was abiding by parliamentary practice, conventions and norms to “start immediately after the debate-get moving.” Teixeira said the AFC was “the only ones that have given a reason” that they wanted more time to decide where in the budget to cut.