THE PIPER: Budget debate’s rationale vitiated

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A government’s “Budget” is its estimated spending for the coming year on the various projects and programs that are expected of modern governments. Since these expenditures are financed through taxes and loans that take money ultimately from the pockets of the citizenry, the representatives of those citizens in a democracy are supposed to “debate” the budget to ensure the peoples’ money are spent most judiciously.

piperFor the system to work, out of the clash of ideas between the various parties in the National Assembly, it is assumed the government – which usually has the votes to carry the day – would take into cognisance and accept views on spending that may differ from its own if they “make sense”. There is, of course, an element of subjectivity in determining what “makes sense”, since reasonable men can have different opinions.

However, during it’s more than one-and-a-half years in office, the APNU/AFC government has been characterized by a stubborn refusal to accept ideas outside of its own conceptions. And this is dangerous in general since no one entity can claim to be the sole repository of wisdom, and in particular when the government in question, as in Guyana, has the slimmest of majorities in popular support. During this last Budget Debate that has just wound down, this insistence on locking out ideas that indubitably “make sense” for the country was illustrated most graphically on the Budget item that allocated $170M for the controversial warehouse for storing pharmaceuticals the  government would have purchased.

This item was inserted, and the government eventually voted it through, even though the following facts are indubitable. No one knows how Larry Singh, a campaign contributor to government during the last elections, knew a warehouse was “needed” by the government since March. At that time the government had its own warehouse at Diamond and also the use of a “top of the line” privately NEWGPC-owned facility that was used by the government for over a decade.

No one has explained why a “deposit” on the warehouse was made when there was no warehouse in existence and, in fact, the exact amount of the deposit was the price for which Larry Singh simultaneously purchased a house at Sussex Street as he received the $25M deposit. The Minister of Health was forced to offer an apology to the National Assembly for lying to that institution about the privately owned warehouse at one quarter of the rental that was being paid to Larry Singh.
The reasons offered by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo for governmental funding of a new privately owned warehouse and spending in excess of $300 million of taxpayers’ money over the cost of the available warehouse was accepted by very few, if any, persons. To wit, that in case of a fire at the government’s Diamond Warehouse or traffic congestion on the East Bank Highway, pharmaceuticals for the GPHC would be immediately available. First of all, the NEWGPC’s cheaper and already proven facility satisfied the criterion of accessibility and secondly, the cost/benefit ratio did not justify the huge governmental outlay.
What was most astounding however, was when during the last budget debate, the  government through the Minister of Health not only  continued defending the expenditure but lied about the warehouse storing government’s pharmaceuticals at the facility nine months after it gave its $25m deposit. Parsing the Hansard records as to whether the Opposition queried whether “tablets” or “medical supplies” was actually the question “put” is only making a mockery of the rationale for having a debate on the government’s budget in the first place. Has the government really justified spending $450M of taxpayers’ money? We think not.
And this brings into question the reason for having these debates.

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