Gov’t accused of electioneering as budget debate begins

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 December 2015, 20:59 by GxMedia

APNU MP Ronald Bulkan

APNU parliamentarian Ronald Bulkan has accused the government of looking to bypass the local government structure as part of an electioneering scheme.

Monday’s charge came as debate opened on the $220B budget estimates in the National Assembly and amidst widespread public speculation that a snap election could be called soon.

Bulkan, who has the shadow portfolio for local government, said the government was bypassing the local government organisations in favour of running projects through other entities such as the finance ministry and community development councils (CDC) with there being no constitutional provision for the latter.

“The minister (of finance) seeks $1B to fund a programme he refers to as a Clean Up Campaign which in his words will be spearheaded by government. It is clear from the minister’s speech that this allocation will not be given to various councils as the law requires but rather the intention is for it to be disbursed directly by the government and its collaborators,” Bulkan stated.

According to him, the initiative was designed to make the existing councils look bad and its purpose could only be to score political points.

“It is not really about a Clean Up Campaign, it is part of an elections campaign,” he declared. Bulkan pointed out that there were two community development projects with allocations of some $1.5B total to be executed by the finance ministry and a CDC.

According to the APNU MP, one of these initiatives titled Poverty Programme, with an earmarked allocation of $795M, was being used as a “massive slush fund.”  

Bulkan said the government’s actions in bypassing the local government organs were making a mockery of democracy.

“Guyana is a large country and it cannot be effectively or efficiently managed from the center in the absence of meaningful engagement with the 10 regional governments. It is dangerous to try and craft a national budget from Main Street and such an approach will fail,” he said.

Bulkan reiterated a 2013 call for a comprehensive approach to needs of the regions and hinterland communities with a bottom up approach instead of central government unilaterally deciding what the communities would receive.

“This budget cannot fly. It has terminal defects with respect to good governance, accountability and transparency and respect for the Constitution; there will have to be modifications to it. The minister will have to go and come again,” Bulkan concluded.

APNU’s shadow finance minister Carl Greenidge had opened the debate earlier with a retrospective on the failure of the government and the opposition to reach an agreement on the latter having meaningful input in the budget preparation.

“I draw your attention Mr. Speaker, to the consequences because in dealing with the budgets in the past we’ve had cause to cut the allocations requested by the minister for a variety of agencies.

“We really need to seriously pay attention to establishing modalities for dealing with difficulties that the majority identifies in relation to the government’s programme and at the moment it is the case that no mechanism exists for that,” Greenidge said.

The APNU MP then went on to castigate the government for including several items in the budget that the opposition had cut from previous budgets for lack of sufficient information, particularly a $6B allocation for GuySuCo.

Greenidge also accused the government of manipulating the figures presented in the budget to portray a favourable fiscal position.

“In looking at the figures especially at the Estimates and the various economic balances one cannot avoid the impression that many of the figures had been doctored to facilitate balance.”

Speaking after Greenidge was Housing and Water Minister Irfaan Ali who challenged him to produce the real figures if he was convinced that they had been tailored.

Ali expressed disappointment with opposition’s point man on finance’s presentation saying that it was his responsibility given his position to put forward an alternative to what was before the House.

He also defended the abilities of finance minister Dr. Ashni Singh who is an accountant by profession.  According to Ali, he would rather have an accountant spearheading eight years of growth as Guyana has seen, instead of an economist who managed to place Guyana at the bottom of the economic ladder in this hemisphere.

Greenidge was finance minister in the PNC administration during the 1980s and up to when the PPP/C came to power in 1992.

Ten speakers contributed to the Monday’s debate with the exercise continuing on Tuesday and scheduled to run for seven days.