By Ramona Luthi
Guyanese were promised change, and change they got. This was reiterated many times yesterday by People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Indranie Chanderpaul, during the continuation of the Budget 2017 debates.
“Their [APNU/AFC] campaign was centered around the term ‘change’ and things did change since they came to power. There was a change for the worse,” Chanderpaul declared.
Addressing the House, the PPP/C MP recalled that Budget 2017 was presented under the title ‘The good life to all Guyanese’ and voiced her speculations that it seems as though the APNU/AFC administration definition of the “good life” means “increased taxation” and “joblessness.”
She pointed out that for the 19-month period, so far, that the Government has been in power, 185 new tax measures have been proposed. “I now know why the members of the Government were thumping their desks so loudly. They were celebrating their achievements of 185 different taxation measures.”
The Opposition MP related that Guyanese have continuously voiced their disapprovals towards the various measures being implemented by the administration, and regardless of how many times they [Guyanese] are given promises of a “good life”, the Government continues to “fail in a monumental way to convince of anything close to that.”
“The Guyanese people have raised many issues that have been affecting them. The slothfulness of the Government in addressing the economic decline, taxation, joblessness and the crime situation are some of the main topics that are worrying issues.”
Chanderpaul reprimanded the administration for this, highlighting that instead of making the effort to resolve these pressing issues that citizens are losing sleep over, the Government “has chosen to make their lives worse.”
In relation to the process leading up to the 2017 budget presentation, she stated that the House was advised that seven key stakeholders made proposals on the budget and submitted these to the Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan. Notably, these groups included the Opposition, the Private Sector Commission, Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) and the Trade Unions Congress (TUC).
“How many of the recommendations made by these stakeholders were incorporated into the budget?” she questioned.
The MP continued to demand an answer on whether Jordan had followed the principles outlined in the Manifesto of the Coalition with respect to consulting the various stakeholders on the proposal to implement tax relief.
Additionally, she condemned the Government for the amount of persons they made ‘officials’. “I would like to propose that they find out what other countries in the world with the population size and level of development as Guyana, have 28 Ministers, 3 Vice Presidents, a Prime Minister and a President as well as numerous advisors to the President and Ministers. Also we cannot forget the 33 honorary advisors.”
As she began to point out many promises that seem to have been broken by the APNU/AFC Administration, Chanderpaul referred the House to the Manifesto of the Coalition once again, highlighting that it includes a grand list of things promised to citizens of Guyana with regards to governance.
“APNU/AFC is committed to ending “winner take all politics” and building responsive and accountable governance.” It also states that they will move vigorously to stamp out the scorch of corruption,” she stated.
In an attempt to prove how untrue these remarks have been, Chanderpaul began to outline what she called the ‘the many acts of corruption’ that the administration has (allegedly) been involved in during their 19 months of power.
According to her, during May of 2015, an inauguration ceremony was conducted for the President of Guyana, David Granger. However, she began that the Government gave contradicting reports on how they were able to finance the ceremony.
“Initially, they indicated that the cost was covered by friends and well-wishers, [but] eventually, after much probing from the Opposition, they finally admitted that the Ministry of Education had made millions of dollars available for the inauguration.”
She questioned the reason for such secrecy.
The Opposition MP went on to add that in the same month, during the first week of acquiring power, eight containers of steel- worth millions of dollars- were removed by BK International from the compound of the Ministry of Public Health in violation of a court order.
“What was the Government’s response to it? [They] did nothing to retrieve the container and neither did [they] say anything about it,” she told the House.
Chanderpaul, in her debate presentation, also recalled that upon ascending to power, the President had announced that Presidential Pardons will be conducted every year for prisoners who were jailed for misdemeanors. Following this, 60 prisoners had been released. However, she said, even after mounting calls for information regarding the names and crimes committed for these individuals, nothing was ever presented.
“In light of the upsurge of crime which the Government does not acknowledge, we believe that it is necessary at this stage for them to provide this information as it may help to address the crime situation. Again the question, what is there to hide?”
As she continued to point out scenarios where the administration seemed shady, Chanderpaul stated that in August of 2015, the public became aware of a contract which was given to Fedders Lloyd for the construction of the specialty hospital even though they [Fedders Lloyd] had lost out on earlier bid.
“This was done without going to tender at a price yet unknown and in violation of the procurement laws,” the Opposition MP said.
However, she was interrupted by the Minister of Finance who immediately refuted the claims stating that “false information is being presented to this house. There was never a contract given to Fedder Lloyd to do anything.”
Chanderpaul continued to question the Government’s perspective of a good life, as she placed the spotlight on the enormous salary increase that the Government officials imposed upon themselves.
“This was quietly done in September 2015, and we on this side of the house waged a struggle in Parliament to bring a motion to reverse this. When the motion was finally heard in December, it was defeated by the Government.”
Additionally, she referred to information that was leaked last year indicating that the Government was planning to increase the salaries of the President, Vice President and Ministers, yet again.
She recalled that this claimed was denied by Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman, and denied for a second time during the 2015 Budget in August.
However, she stated that when they [Government] went into recess during mid-September, they “stealthily published order # 6 of 215 in the official gazette [and increased] their salaries and making it retroactive to July 1 2015.”
Chanderpaul reiterated the excuse given by the administration that they “needed more money because they were making a sacrifice since their self-employment was very lucrative.”
She reprimanded them once again for this, highlighting that hard working public servants have to wait for their salary increase, while the Government with alacrity, went ahead a hefty increase for themselves.
“This increase was done without the establishment of the Constitutional Salary Reviews Commission which was proposed in the coalition manifesto to review periodically, the salaries and pensions for persons appointed to constitutional offices including the President, Prime Ministers, Judges, MPs and other special offices,” she explained.
As she continued her blunt assessment of APNU/AFC’s lack of transparency, the PPP/C MP relayed that between September and December of last year, the administration was very shady regarding a private company which was responsible for the Durban Park Development Project.
“The Opposition requested information on the source of funding for the project, including those who gave donations. We are still awaiting information on the companies that gave donations and how much was paid to the private company. Again, it took another motion by the Opposition to get more information.”
Notably, she revealed that even with the motion, many questions were still left unanswered.
In the same vein of transparency, she noted that hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by the Government and the Georgetown City Council on the clean-up campaign, which was not tendered for.
According to her “companies were handpicked [and] in some cases, new companies were created with no experience to undertake the work.”
She stated that there is yet to be documentation presented regarding the amount of monies spent, while adding that the Mayor and Town Clerk have continuously rebuffed efforts to all the Auditor General to conduct a forensic audit at City Hall.