Although $30M has been allocated for the Local Government Commission in 2017, the constitutional body is yet to be established pending nominees from President David Granger, as well as Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan.
Minister Bulkan told the Supply Committee of the National Assembly earlier this week that the Commission would be operationalised by the end of 2017.
A 2016 budgetary allocation of $30M for the Commission raised questions by Opposition MPs prompting Minister Bulkan to respond indicating this was done by the Finance Ministry in anticipation of the Local Government Commission being established by the end of 2016.
Although this was not done, the revised 2016 estimates showed a reduction from $30M to $28.4M.
“We heard the Local Government Commission was not in operation,” Opposition MP Irfaan Ali questioned Bulkan in the Committee, “could the Minister say what was this expenditure made on?”
Bulkan responded that the sum stated was released by the Finance Ministry in anticipation that the Commission would be set up, however none of the budgeted money was spent so those monies would return to the consolidated fund.
MP Ali pressed-on saying the reduction from $30M to $28.4M “gives one an impression that this was expended. It is not the full $30M. So if you did not have the Local Government Commission, then the entire amount should have been returned to the consolidated fund.”
Bulkan was asked to provide the dates when Opposition Leader Bharrat submitted his nominations to the Commission.
“I don’t have those dates in front of me but I believe that the Secretariat of the Leader of the Opposition, and the Opposition Chief Whip did refer to both of these correspondences,” Minister Bulkan responded, adding he would provide that information at a later date.
It was then that Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira stood in the House to question how $1.5M was missing. “What did you spend it on?” she asked Minister Bulkan.
“I’m not sure where the deduction is coming from,” Bulkan responded, “or on what basis the Honourable Member is deducing $1.5M was spent, but the revised figure is the release made by the Ministry of Finance. Nothing was spent.”
A visibly-upset Teixeira stood again to remind the Minister of his budget presentation when he spoke of the setting up of the local government commision.
The Minister, in his budget presentation, had said that there is some conflict between the functions of the Local Government Commission and the legal provisions for statutory officers in the local democratic organs.
Teixeira accused Minister Bulkan of attempting to mislead the House three times on the Opposition PPP’s contribution of nominees in writing to the Communities Minister for the Local Government Commission.
The Opposition Chief Whip said the Minister is “playing around the issue” asserting that he “fully-well knows that the letter was sent to you and it was signed by your secretary.”
Teixeira accused the Minister of refusing to sign the order and gazette the Local Government Commission, although Minister Bulkan believes this has not stopped the necessary local government reform process before the Commission comes into being.
Opposition MP Nigel Dharamlall questioned Minister Bulkan on his appointments as well as the appointments from President Granger, to which Bulkan responded, “I am not in a position to say.”