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Put Guyana first says finance minister ahead of budget debate

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh is calling on the parliamentary opposition to put the country first as the parties prepare to begin debate on the $220B budget on Monday.

His exhortation comes in light of indications from both the APNU and AFC that they are prepared to effect cuts to this year’s Estimates despite a court ruling which ruled such action unconstitutional. Government had moved to the court following cuts to the 2012 and that decision was handed down January last. Cuts were also made to last year’s budget.

“I appeal to my colleagues in the National Assembly for serious and civil debates of Budget 2014. This should not be treated as a stage for political grandstanding. This third budget of the 10th Parliament, like previous budgets, is another opportunity for our elected officials and leaders to demonstrate to their constituents and all people of Guyana that they can, and will, work in the interest of the nation,” Dr. Singh said in a statement Sunday evening.

Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang had ruled that that the parties could only approve or disapprove of the Estimates and not amend it. On Friday the APNU called for significant changes to budget saying that was the only way they would approve it.

But when contacted on Saturday APNU’s point man on finance Carl Greenidge clarified that their intention was not to reject the entire budget but rather to proceed as they had in previous years.

“We will approve what we believe is correct and what is inappropriate we will not approve,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

The AFC for its part appears to have interpreted the ruling as saying that individual items in the overall Estimates can only be approved or disapproved instead of reduced as the parties had done the previous two years.

“The AFC consequently will approve most line items and not approve others,” party leader Khemraj Ramjattan told DemWaves last week.

Up to Saturday there was no word on the items the two parties would combine on to “disapprove” with their one seat majority though allocations for the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN), the beleaguered GuySuCo and the Guyana Power and Light have all been targeted in the past.

The APNU has already indicated that it had a problem with a $6B allocation for the struggling sugar industry while the AFC has listed NCN’s allocation for automatic disapproval.  

“The AFC and the APNU have since 2011 pointed out to the government that it is rather pointless simply approving these large amounts for any entity, whether it’s sugar, power, bauxite, what have you, if you don’t attempt to fix the basic problem and just throwing good money after bad is not going to solve the problem.

We’ve said this all the time so we don’t need to have a specific discussion on it; the government has done absolutely nothing to fix the sugar industry,” Greenidge said.  

Dr. Singh said the budget debate presented another opportunity for the National Assembly to demonstrate that it could work together despite the political differences to move the country forward.