The National Assembly resumed its sittings on Monday to consider the estimates in the proposed 2017 Budget and approved unchanged in excess of $6 billion for the Ministry of the Presidency.
The departments considered and had their spending approved included the Ministry of the Presidency’s Policy Development and Administration, Defence and National Security, Public Service Management, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Social Cohesion and Environmental Management and Compliance.
The political Opposition used the opportunity to grill Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, who provided information with regard to the departments in the Ministry with the assistance of Ministers Winston Felix and Amna Ally.
The House heard, among other things, that the Ministry of the Presidency will in 2017 be looking to its fleet of 142 vehicles, four new cars and a Land Cruiser meant to be used for visiting Heads of State and similar dignitaries.
The Minister was at the time responding to questions posed by members of the political Opposition.
The House heard that the vehicles would be kept mothballed when not in use.
Another of the provisions that attracted a lively exchange between Government and Opposition members was an almost $200 million allocation for the General Register’s Office under the remit of Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix.
The House heard a total of $194 million was allocated to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2016 and the Budget documents showed that $191 million was spent in 2016, with another $194 million budgeted for 2017.
Felix was at this time grilled by Opposition parliamentarians Joseph Hamilton, Juan Edghill and Irfaan Ali.
He admitted that of the $194 million allocated to his Department in 2016, only $3 million was spent.
Felix noted that the monies were spent on the computerisation of records (1987-1997) at the General Register’s Office (GRO). He stated that the computerisation of records, from 1886 to 1986, has not been completed.
On the question of what happened to the $191 million left, Felix first told the House that his Ministry was “mobilising from within” to have the monies spent.
He then stressed that the $191 million has not been spent and has been rolled over to 2017. At this point, Hamilton charged that the budget documents showed that the $191 million was spent.
The members of the National Assembly heard too that the Commissioner of Information, Charles Ramson Sr and his office would no longer be administered by the Ministry of the Presidency, since this responsibility has been turned over to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo was later grilled by Opposition Member Edghill over this Office.
The House was told that Information Commissioner Ramson was in fact employed, attracting a $36 million package, inclusive of a $1.7 million monthly salary.
Nagamootoo said the Commissioner of Information has been written to since he has given no report of his work for the past couple years of this appointment.
Nagamootoo told the House the Commissioner also has no staff and no office.
As has become ritualistic during the considerations of the annual estimates, Minister Harmon was also grilled over several provisions for the payment of contract employees at the Ministry of the Presidency.
Harmon indicated to the House that the adjustments in the staffing construct included secondment and restructuring warranting an increase of $100 million for salaries to be paid.
Prime Minister Nagamootoo was also grilled on contract employees under the Prime Minister’s Secretariat since all employees were on contract.
The Prime Minister said this was an inherited situation and it was not the intention of the Office to depend solely on contract employees. He did seek to point out that there were areas and specialities that would warrant persons being employed on contract.
The Prime Minister was grilled specifically on the employment of Director of Public Information Imran Khan and the House was told his salary topped $550,000 per month in addition to entertainment and other allowances.
Nagamootoo was also grilled over the allocations to the Government Information Agency (GINA) given that while in Opposition he was a party to cutting allocations to that unit down to $1.
The Prime Minister told the House that GINA was no longer doing partisan political propaganda and was in fact now providing a useful service to the Guyanese people hence justifying allocations for 2017.
Meanwhile, as it relates to the National Communications Network (NCN) – slated to receive a $134 million subvention in 2017 –Nagamootoo informed the House that NCN was in fact projected to run a deficit by the end of the year.
According to Nagamootoo, the total expenditure is expected to reach $443 million by the end of the year.
He said the deficit projected was in part a result of bad business practices inherited where services were rendered to clients that never paid.
A total of $882 million was approved for the Prime Minister’s Office for 2017. (Gary Eleazar/Guyana Times)