Former President Jagdeo flays Finance Minister over ‘fiscal space’ argument

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$5B constitutional agencies’ budget cuts

– as house approve cuts

A move by the government, described as a direct threat to democracy in Guyana, saw the A partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government slashing the budget for a number of critical constitutional agencies by a whopping $5 billion on Thursday evening.
During consideration of the 2017 Estimates of Expenditure for 16 Constitutional Agencies, tempers flared in the National Assembly as the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) argued profusely   against a decision to reduce the agencies’ allocations, which could impact their effective functioning.

Finance Minister Winston Jordan
Finance Minister Winston Jordan

The 16 agencies requested over $11 billion for 2016, however those requests were watered down to $6 billion by the government, with Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan leading the charge.
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) suffered the ‘deepest’ cut with its 2017 budgetary request slashed from $5.8 billion to $2 billion.
This decision came in for heavy criticism from the PPP/C benches. However, House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland blocked most of the questions posed by the Opposition which sought to enquire whether the allocation is sufficient, bearing in mind the electoral commission is expected to embark on fresh house-to-house registration next year.
Scotland said the rules prohibited the PPP/C parliamentarians from scrutinising the operational aspects and line-items of the constitutional bodies.
The government used its 33-member majority in the house to vote for the Gecom allocation.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT COMMISSION
As it relates to the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) Jordan unilaterally decided to allocate $76.2M to the body for fiscal year 2017, arguing that the Commission is not yet operational, thus it will benefit from supplementary financing if necessary during 2017.
“Don’t beat us up on it…it is a provisional sum,” Jordan said.

 

Former President and now Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo
Former President and now Opposition Leader,  Bharrat Jagdeo

His revelation however prompted Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and PPP/C Member of Parliament, Irfaan Ali, to question who the Finance Minister consulted before arriving at the provision.
But before any further scrutiny by the Opposition, Dr Scotland called a vote.  The opposition abstained.
President David Granger is yet to swear-in the five-member commission as recommended by the Irfaan Ali-led PAC
The members of the PPC are Emily Dodson, Carol Corbin, Sukrishnalall Pasha, Ivor English and Dr Nanda Gopaul. The names were unanimously approved by Parliament.

The Government also reduced the budgetary requests for the Ethic Relations Commission (ERC) from $141.2 million and received $84.9 million, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) from $15.02 million to $10.02million. Indigenous Peoples’ Commission’s (IPC) request was reduced from $33.1 million to $24.4 million, while the Rights of the Child Commission (ROC) requested $97million, but only received $41.5 million.
The Women and Gender Equality Commission requested $62.9million but received $42 million, while the Human Rights Commission received $34.1 million of the $74.9 million requested.
The Minister of Finance also slashed the budgetary request of the Office of the Ombudsman, which is without a head from $50.3 million to $48.3 million and the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, which has not been established yet received $12.4 million, but had requested$13.9 million.
However, the cut that raised much concern was that of the Auditor General Office, which had proposed a $771.2 million budget but the amount was slashed to 754.9 million. This decision came on the heels of AG Deodat Sharma being critical of the Finance Ministry for misusing the Consolidated Fund in a recent audit report.
Additionally, Government used its one-seat majority to reduce the budget of the Parliament Office from $1.7 billion to $1.5 billion.

‘FISCAL SPACE’
The opposition questioned where the sums approved by Jordan were adequate for the effective functioning of the constitutional bodies.
However, every time these questions were put to the Finance Minister, he argued that the allocations were made “in context of existing fiscal space and the consideration of the Agency’s request within national development priorities.”
This prompted Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, to challenge the Finance Minister to explain his concept of fiscal space.
“It (his explanation) connotes an assumption on level of expenditure and revenues, to get a fiscal surplus or deficit…and it fits into a notion, capricious or rational, of what is sustainable over time…I would like to know, what assumptions were made on revenue, on expenditure…what is the sustainable framework?” Jagdeo asked, as he called on Jordan to proffer an explanation.
Jordan in an attempt to dodge Jagdeo’s question stated that “Mr Chairman, I don’t know if you are permitting us to go down this road…this is not the Minister of Finance’s fiscal space. This is the Executive fiscal space…the Minister of Finance is one member of the Executive.”
But, adamant Jagdeo said while he was not questioning the notion that the budget was “the Executive’s budget’  he was still trying to get what the minister meant, since he continuously argued that  “fiscal space” was  the determining factor in him exercising the cuts.
“All I am asking for is how he determined what the fiscal space available is…He mentioned the concept of fiscal space and I am asking him to tell the country how he came up with the notion of fiscal space,” Jagdeo stated.
Minister Jordan declined to answer.
The 2017 Budgets of 16 Constitutional agencies were submitted to the National Assembly and copied to the Ministry of Finance, in keeping with the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2015 passed by the APNU/AFC administration.

(Reprinted from today’s Guyana Times)

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