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Parliamentarians approve $2.5B more for planes, border controversy legal fees, CJIA project

The National Assembly on Friday approved in excess of $2.5B in supplementary provisions to be expended in addition to previously voted amounts for the Annual Budget.

The vote came just about 19:30hrs, following a robust scrutiny of the Financial Paper #2/2018 submitted by Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan and subsequently unanimously approved.

The provisions sought included amounts for the payment of legal fees for Guyana’s legal defence at the Hague, Netherlands-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its border controversy case with Venezuela; payments for four planes for the Guyana Defence Force, monies for the payment of a court settlement and payments for an additional contract for the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, as well as a contentious allocation of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA).

During scrutiny of the request for more than $788M for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for payment of legal and associated fees, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo was quick to place on record his party’s support to government on the case.

“Nothing that we say here must be interpreted as not supportive of our case, at ICJ and full solidarity with Government in pursuing that case,” the Opposition leader said.

This, however, did not prevent the opposition from grilling Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge over the source of the money and its purpose.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed for the members of the Assembly that the money is in fact coming from the US$18M signing bonus that was paid to the state by ExxonMobil in 2016.

According to the Minister with responsibility for Foreign Affairs, “the monies will be spent in fees claimed by the lawyers based upon the hours of work they put in.”

He was adamant in face of objections raised by the political opposition; government did not require permission to use the signing bonus but rather to expend the amount.

Another allocation to raise stimulating, robust debate centered on a $600M allocation for the NDIA through the Ministry of Agriculture.

Substantive Minister, Noel Holder informed the House, the request was being made since the drainage and irrigation responsibilities of the Guyana Sugar Corporation have since been shifted to NDIA.

As such, the Minister explained that NDIA was in need of the additional monies to cater for its additional D&I responsibilities.

He explained that even the estates that had been closed still require D&I works since it forms part of a larger drainage system which must be taken care off.
Another allocation to fuel heated debate in the House surrounded a request for some $226M to be paid to GUYTRAC.
The House heard that matter in fact had its genesis in a contract that had been awarded to the company to supply 20 mini excavators.

That contract was terminated after which state was hauled before the court and the $226M judgement granted.
Minister Holder told the House government managed to negotiate with GUYTRAC to secure four mini excavators and six long boom excavators handed over to the State—a process that obtained through direct negotiations.
Opposition Leader Jagdeo at this point from his seat heckled “misconduct in public office”—an obvious reference to the top PPP officials recently charged and placed before the court for ‘misconduct in public office.’

The House learnt too that the $346M amount requested for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project was in fact a new contract and not the US$138M contract originally inked.

That money, according to Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson, is to be used for the purchase and installation of two additional boarding bridges at the new airport.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon was also grilled over a $484M allocation for the Guyana Defence Force (GDF)—monies earmarked as final payment for four 40-year-old planes.

He told the House two SkyVans have been purchased from Belgium from an American owned company while two islanders were purchased from Brazil.
According to Minster Harmon, the suitability of the aircrafts had been determined by the defence board and that the GDF does possess the requisite capacity to operate the fleet.

He told the members of the House, Britten-Norman Islanders had been used in the past to ferry cargo and passengers while the SkyVans had been used for ferrying troops as well as para-trooping activities.
Under questioning by former Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, the Minister told the House the planes have in fact been factored into a national plan and will be available to the State for use by other agencies such as the Guyana Police Force.

The allocations were at the end session unanimously approved despite a single request from opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira who had failed to convince Social Protection Minister Amna Ally, to reallocate the $81M identified for a fence at New Opportunity Corps (NOC) to be instead used for programmes for the children incarcerated there.

Minister Ally was however unmoved and the allocation for the 10 feet high fence around the institution was approved included in the $2,526,563,240.