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Opposition, govt to clash over spending

Parliament Building: It’s at the National Assembly’s Chamber that government and opposition MPs may clash over the Finance Minister’s Statement of Excess on Thursday, July 10, 2014.

The National Assembly is heading for a showdown next week Thursday, as the combined opposition prepares to vote down a Statement of Excesses for GUY$4.5 billion that have been spent on items that were not approved by the House, but Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh is hardly worried because he said  the monies have been already spent legally and justifiably.

Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan said he left Thursday’s talks with A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) convinced that the combined opposition would not approve the Statement of Excesses for the  monies spent from January to June 16, 2014.

Asked what would happen if the AFC and APNU use their 33 seats to vote against the Statement of Excesses, the Finance Minister said “I really would not be able to say what the consequences of non-approval are. What I would say is that they were incurred properly and legally so there is no doubt about that,” he said. Singh urged that no one should underestimate the value of parliamentary scrutiny of government’s operations during the budgetary cycle.

Reacting to the Finance Minister’s position that the monies would have been already spent, the AFC Leader said that would amount to an illegality and that a complaint would be lodged with the police that could result in Singh being jailed for as much as three years. “They are coming now for post-facto authorization and we are not going to give it the authorization so he would have been illegally spending the money and under the FMAA (Fiscal Management and Accountability Act) he could be jailed for three years or we would have to go and get surcharge for him,” said Ramjattan.

The Finance Minister dismissed suggestions that government was abusing constitutional and legal loopholes and merely making the National Assembly a rubber stamp. “I don’t believe that it follows necessarily that the House is a mere rubber stamp. I disagree completely and entirely,” he said.

The Finance Minister did not specifically answer why he opted to use the route of Statement of Excesses to have monies that have been already spent approved rather than return uncontroversial aspects of the budget to the House as Supplementary Estimates to be first approved before spending.

The Finance Minister says he is authorized by Article 218 (3)(b) of the Constitution that states that if in any financial year it is found that any moneys have been expended for any purpose in excess of the amount appropriated for that purpose by the Appropriation Act for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by that Act, a supplementary estimate or, as the case may be, a statement of excess showing the sums required or spent shall be laid before the National Assembly by the Finance Minister. Singh said he further relied on 220 (1) that authorizes him to make advances from the Consolidated Fund if he satisfied that there is an urgent need for expenditure for which no other provision exists. With regards to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, the law authorizes the Minister to seek a Contingencies Fund advance from the Consolidated Fund if he satisfied that an urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen need for the expenditure arises but for which no moneys have been appropriated or for which the sum appropriated is insufficient.

Singh recalled that the National Assembly has in the past approved 93 percent or GUY$8.7 billion from the Contingency Fund. However,  Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge has said that parliamentarians often consider political factors in deciding whether to approve monies. Members of Parliament often feel obliged to approve certain expenditures because those may be politically sensitive. That’s does not mean that the MPs did not think that the spending was illegal. The PPP spends money illegally claiming that it had been used for one purpose when it was not,” said Greenidge.

Government has so far spent GUY$225 million on student loans for the University of Guyana for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Although the Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), with their combined one-seat majority, did not approve monies for the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) and the Government Information Agency (GINA) the Statement of Excesses shows that cash has been spent on those agencies.

For instance, GUY$66.4 million were spent on GINA to pay salaries and other costs, GUY$32.6 million  on employment costs for NCN , GUY$121 million for the Presidential Guard Service .

In relation to the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF),  GUY$303 million were spent on the Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme and a subvention to the Bina Hill Institute. With regards to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) modernization programme,  GUY$824.8 million 

The Statement also shows that GUY$29 million were spent by the Office of the President to pay contracted employees. 

The government had lumped several contentious expenditures with those that would have evoked little or no controversy, resulting in the opposition not approving huge blocks of the budget.

Government has also expended GUY$4.9 million on the Office of the First Lady, GU$32.6 million on the Office for Commissioner for Information, GUY$59 million for the Institute of Applied Science and Technology, GUY$450.6 million for the construction of Long Term Evolution (LTE) sites for the E-Government Programme and GUY$424.3 million on Local Carbon Development Programmes such as the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF), Amerindian Land Titling, Micro and Small Enterprise and a Trustee Admin Fee.