An $80M figure allocated for the Office of the Prime Minister with an unnamed budgetary specification was identified by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo as monies reserved for the Office of the Commissioner of Information, the Department of Governance, as well as the constitutional reform process.
Of the monies budgeted, PM Nagamootoo told the Committee of Supply as budget 2017 questions continue, $36M was allocated for the Office of the Commissioner of Information.
Commissioner of Information, former Appeals Justice Charles Ramson Snr, receives a monthly salary of $1.7M, however, Ramson has for some time been operating out of his East Street, Georgetown home with no staff and no office.
Even with the new government approaching 18 months and Prime Minister Nagamootoo being the Minister designated to engage the Commissioner, PM Nagamootoo complained in the House that Information Commissioner Ramson has not, for years, fulfilled his statutory duty of presenting yearly reports to the National Assembly.
Previously, the Office of the Commissioner of Information, a constitutional agency, was provided budgetary allocations from the Ministry of the Presidency, however, State Minister Joseph Harmon said today in the House that the Information Commissioner will be moved to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Opposition MP Juan Edghill was left to ask how it is that a information commissioner’s office could be placed under the PM’s office, instead of being given a subvention.
Edghill alluded to a conflict between the information commissioner’s function to provide information on public authorities, with it’s new placement under the Prime Minister’s office which is a public authority.
Turning attention to the remainder of of the $80M, Opposition MP Teixeira quested the Prime Minister on the allocations for governance and constitutional reform.
PM Nagamootoo indicated $44M was allocated for governance, which was a transfer from the former Ministry of Governance now to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We haven’t been able to staff that department fully,” Nagamootoo continued, “the rest will go to start the constitutional reform process.”
Nagamootoo said there is currently a Governance Department under the Office of the Prime Minister, headed by Tamara Khan, who is paid $420,000 per month from March 2016.
Opposition MP Nandlall rose in the House to question whether the Director of Governance was related to the Director of Public Information under the Prime Minister’s Office, Imran Khan.
Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland responded that the consideration of estimates is not the time for such questions, though it could be raised some other time.
Nagamootoo told the House that the Director of Public Information receives $551,000 monthly with $20,000 in other benefits.
Continuing his questions, Nandlall challenged the Prime Minister on his statement of allocations for constitutional reform which was not the same as the $80M indicated by Finance Minister Winston Jordan in his budget speech.
The Prime Minister responded that a number of local organisations, including UNICEF, had pledged $40M to Guyana’s constitutional reform process. An indication which raised eyebrows on the opposition benches.