-Opposition signals intention to file legal challenge
The National Assembly late on Friday afternoon approved the $267.1billion budget for 2018 despite concerns from the Opposition Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) about the exclusion of the US$18 million signing bonus from the estimates.
The Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, has since indicated that the Opposition would be moving to the Courts to have the Estimates amended to reflect the signing bonus.
Budget 2018 was presented to the National Assembly on November 27 with the theme “The Journey to the Good Life Continues.” Finance Minister Winston Jordan, in his budget presentation, said the $267.1 billion budget seeks to introduce several measures to support Government’s green agenda and improve various key economic sectors.
As Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo on Friday sought to suspend the Standing Orders of the National Assembly to deal with Appropriations Bill No 15 of 2017, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira registered her party’s concerns with the exclusion of the US$18 million signing bonus paid by ExxonMobil in 2016.
“We believe that there is time for us to amend and correct the Estimates,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the PPP/C submitted a motion to have the final consideration by the Committee of Supply suspended to deal with the motion calling for the Finance Minister to amend the Estimates to reflect the signing bonus, but House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland disallowed the motion.
Scotland contended that the motion did not satisfy the criteria of being of urgent importance since the issue was raised in the House about a week ago and the Opposition only approached the House when the consideration of the estimates are scheduled to conclude.
However, the Opposition Leader posited that the issue has not been long in the public domain and that it is urgent since if the estimates are passed without incorporating the US$18M signing bonus then an “illegality would have been perpetrated by the House.”
“If we were to pass these estimates as presented by the Minister of Finance we would knowingly agree to an illegality that is being perpetrated by this House. I can demonstrate clearly that it is illegal to withhold money received as revenue and not pay into the Consolidated Fund or any other fund provided by the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMA) 2003,” said Jagdeo.
The Opposition Leader said the next move would be to engage the Courts to have the Government comply with the financial rules and regulations.
The ExxonMobil US$18 million signing bonus was paid to the Government, but Government officials had not publicized its receipt until Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram raised the matter a few months ago.
Last Friday, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman was forced to reveal that the bonus had indeed been received. He noted that the money was earmarked to cover the legal fees in the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy.
It took a leaked letter published in the media to force Government to admit receipt of the signing bonus.
In the 2018 Budget, the Ministry of the Presidency would receive $9.4 billion; Finance Ministry would receive $28.2 billion; Foreign Affairs Ministry $5.5 billion; Indigenous Peoples Affairs Ministry $2.2 billion; Agriculture Ministry $16.8 billion; Business Ministry $2.1 billion; Natural Resources Ministry $1.1 billion; Public Telecommunications Ministry $4.6 billion; Public Infrastructure Ministry $32.06 billion; Education Ministry $19.9 billion; Communities Ministry $6.5 billion; Public Health $23.4 billion; Social Protection $16.9 billion; Public Security $18.7 billion; and Legal Affairs $1.06 billion.