PPP/C says reductions yet another flagrant attempt by Govt to interfere with rights of autonomous bodies and to evade scrutiny
Billions of dollars will be slashed from the budgets of constitutional agencies, preventing these bodies from optimally carrying out their functions for the upcoming fiscal year.
According to the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), these reductions are yet another flagrant attempt by Government to interfere with the rights of these autonomous bodies and to evade scrutiny.
PPP/C Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, during a news conference Monday afternoon, pointed out that the total budgetary allocation for the constitutional agencies in 2016 amounted to some $8 billion, while the Finance Ministry’s proposed amount for 2017 is a mere $6 billion, a major reduction of approximately $2 billion.
Even more alarming, she noted, is that the constitutional agencies altogether requested some $11 billion, but Government is only willing to approve some $6 billion, a difference of over $5 billion.
“This slashing of the requested budgets to lessen what they received in 2016 is highly unacceptable… This is a clear case of the abuse of the Constitution which guarantees and protects independence of these bodies,” Teixeira asserted.
She contended that these agencies would be incapable of functioning optimally with these major budget cuts and questioned why any sensible government would make such a decision.
“How can the Indigenous Peoples Commission be slashed when most of their budget goes to bring commissioners to the meetings? How can you cut the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Supreme Courts budget when the issue of the backlog of cases and there is dire need for more prosecutors and the timely hearing of cases. How can one cut the Guyana Elections Commission budget, when we’re aware of the GECOM decision to hold a new house-to-house registration in 2017?” she questioned.
Former Junior Finance Minister Juan Edghill, during the news conference, reminded that a budget is a financial plan which articulates the direction of an organisation and the cost to get there.
Therefore, he argued, by cutting the budgets, these organisations will now have to re-organise priorities and neglect funding for some critical undertakings.
“Whenever the Government reduces the allocations for constitutional agencies, they are actually preventing themselves from being scrutinised. For example, the Auditor General would say this is what we need, if you cut the auditor office, the Auditor General would have to re-organise his priorities and so something will be left out, which means less scrutiny for Government,” he explained.
Moreover, he expressed concerns over the cutting of the budget for Parliament Office and the repercussions for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, which is funded by this constitutional entity.
“If additional monies were sought for Parliament Office, why are you cutting for the Parliament Office almost $200 million? I hope this does not mean the Leader of the Opposition allocation will be reduced… If it is cut by $200 million, the Clerk of the National Assembly will be in a mad frenzy to determine how he will spend this money,” Edghill explained.
Additionally, Edghill totally disregarded Finance Minister Winston Jordan’s explanation for the slashing of the requested sums.
The Finance Minister, in documents dispatched to the Office of the Opposition, explained that the monies were reduced “in the context of existing fiscal space and the consideration of the agencies’ request within national development priorities”.
Furthermore, the PPP/C is concerned about the allocations of monies to agencies that do not even exist.
Edghill pointed out that there were several agencies such as the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Procurement Commission, which were not functioning, yet the Finance Ministry allocated sums for their operations.
The former Finance Minister explained that these constitutional agencies were the ones to determine their priorities and how they intended to operate for the fiscal year and, therefore, would make submissions. He posited if these bodies were inactive, “then who made the recommendations for monies?”
More alarming, he expressed, is the situation with the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), which has a proposed budget of $76 million. “Something is terribly wrong here,” Edghill registered. He explained that since the Commissioners were not sworn in, they could not possibly engage with the Public Actions Committee to discuss emolument packages and the terms of reference to determine the scope of work; therefore, there is no possible way for the body to determine how much money it would need to perform its duties. Edghill questioned how Government arrived at the figure for the PPC and, in the same breath, demanded the immediate establishment of the Commission.