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Gov’t made the first cut to the budget – Ramjattan

A fired-up Dr. Ashni Singh wrapped up the budget debate Tuesday night.

AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan says billions of revenue dollars are not represented in the $220B national budget thereby denying the House a true picture of the state of the country’s finances.

Speaking on the last day of the budget debate Tuesday Ramjattan said the government had withheld more than $30B from the estimates.

“We are told that we largely have what is called approximately $208B to spend but if we were to put all the revenue streams into this budget we would have lots more than that and the approximation of the experts that have indicated to me it is in the vicinity of more than $50B that was cut prior to this budget,” he said.

According to Ramjattan, monies from several state agencies were not being put into the Consolidated Fund in keeping with the law and he highlighted NICIL; the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission; the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission; the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority; and the Central Housing and Planning Authority.

He added that there was also the revenue derived from the operation of the Lotto that was not being placed in the Consolidated Fund.

“Now these bodies have government monies, what is called public monies under the Constitution … that alone totals some $27.7B that is not there.”

In addition to that Ramjattan said the Auditor General’s 2012 report indicated that there were a number of agencies with bank balances totaling some $4.1B that were supposed to be placed into the Consolidated Fund.  The AFC MP said the National Assembly was not getting a true picture of how much money was available to be spent.

“It’s like a husband who is the income earner giving the housewife not the total sum that he earned; actually he earns $100,000 and he goes and says I only earned $60,000 and with that the housewife has to go and pay rent and do all the necessary things.”   

According to Ramjattan, the people must know that even before the budget reaches the National Assembly it was cut the preparatory stage.

“Members who are going to be critical of us, who are going to run to the television station and do the hue and cry, that the AFC and APNU have cut the budget, I want the point to be made that billions have been hatcheted and hacked and sheared.”

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh in wrapping up the seven days of debate responded to Ramjattan’s claims saying that they were incorrect. With respect to the bank balances to be transferred the minister said the accounts were all government accounts and were therefore available.

“Moving money from one government bank account to another government bank account doesn’t create revenue out of which expenditure can be met; that’s like moving money from your left pocket to your right pocket. You don’t become wealthier by moving money from one account at Scotia Bank to another account you hold at Demerara Bank.”

Dr. Singh added that the agencies cited by the AFC member were established by law and retain their revenue by statutes enacted by the National Assembly.

“In 1991 our predecessors in this House enacted something called the Companies Act 1991, NICIL is incorporated as a company under the Companies Act that this House enacted and so sir let us not create the misleading impression … the people of Guyana must not have this mistaken notion perpetuated that somehow these entities are operating outside the framework of the law,” he said.

The minister’s rebuttal, which came after the presentation of Leader of the Opposition David Granger, was replete with historical comparisons between the PPP/C and PNC eras and locked in on the APNU members’ contention that there was nothing good in the budget.

“Budget 2014 is not a budget for the poor, it is not for workers, it is not for the young, it is not for the aged; it is anti-poor, anti-people and anti-progress. It is driven by politics, not economics,” Granger had said.

He added that it re-emphasised the need to urgently establish a parliamentary “Office of the Budget” to ensure that all sides of the National Assembly could propose ideas for national development.

“The truth is that the nation wakes up every morning to the dreary reality of shoddy road repairs, broken schools, an underfunded university, shaky institutions and a brigade of jobless dropouts. The problem, of course, is that this budget simply does not furnish the funds to confront the most serious challenges facing families,” Granger said.

He identified some of those problems as being crime, youth unemployment and a lack of quality education and health care.

“The budget, despite its promise – A better Guyana for all Guyanese – is more likely to degenerate into “a bitter Guyana for most Guyanese,” the APNU Chairman declared.

Dr. Singh in his remarks called on the opposition to support the now-stalled Amaila Hydropower Project if they were serious about creating jobs.

“No political leader in this country could claim to be responsible and not want our country to harness hydropower so that we can have cheaper energy, so that we can attract investors, so that we can create jobs …,” he stated.

Dr. Singh concluded by saying the government will 3be entering the next phase in good faith and he called on the opposition parties to rise above the threat of cuts and act in the interest of the people.

The National Assembly will resolve itself into Committee of Supply from Wednesday to consider the actual budget estimates with that exercise scheduled to last seven days.