Billions being spent on ministerial outreaches – Jagdeo

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…says inflated food bills run into millions of dollars

The fact that Cabinet outreaches continue unabated has been slammed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who noted that approximately $2 billion was already spent on what he essentially called political campaigning.

Jagdeo made this observation during a recent press conference, in which he referenced recent statements from Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon. Harmon had defended the outreaches by saying that they are catered for in the budget.

“Harmon said it’s provided for in the budget. They have spent about $2 billion on these outreaches. The outreach is part of their campaign,” Jagdeo said, adding that a kickback scheme may also be involved in the rental of certain equipment for the outreach.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon

“You should see the food bill for these outreaches. Runs into millions of dollars. But it’s actually hundreds of thousands. And the excess goes to individuals. They are making up receipts for travel and subsistence. Imagine spending billions of dollars on outreaches that are meaningless to Guyanese. Taxpayer monies are being spent.”

And with Government having resorted back from holding a ‘plenary’ to holding ‘Cabinet’ and approving contracts, Jagdeo also warned that such contracts are invalid. He noted that by the Constitution, Cabinet ought to have been resigned and elections called.

“Let me just say that those companies getting contracts approved by this Cabinet now, that none of those contracts are valid that received the no objection from Cabinet,” Jagdeo said, putting them on notice.

In June of this year, Harmon had to defend the recent move by the APNU/AFC Government to secure more than $300 million in supplementary funding from the National Assembly for ministerial outreaches across the country.

At the parliamentary sitting on May 23, Finance Minister Winston Jordan had presented Financial Paper 1 of 2019 totalling in excess of $7.9 billion. Of that amount, $800 million was approved for the Finance Ministry, part of which is for “increased activities such as ministerial outreaches”.

Asked to justify the additional $350 million when supplementary funds are only sought in the case of urgency and/or emergency, Harmon had sought to underscore the importance of these ministerial engagements.

The Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency (MOTP) noted that Government first had these outreaches back 2016 and 2017, and it was based on the feedbacks that it found it necessary to continue the engagements with the public.

At the time, Government had held ministerial outreaches in Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Six, Nine and 10. These outreaches came amidst heavy criticisms that the APNU/AFC coalition was blatantly using taxpayers’ money and State resources to campaign heavily across the country.

Last month Government was even hit with protests at their own outreaches. When Government Ministers visited Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) on August 16, in what was expected to be a ministerial outreach to the region, they were greeted by a poor turnout and widespread picketing.

At Glasgow, also in East Bank Berbice, Ministers Winston Felix and Tabitha Sarabo-Halley were expected to address residents, but instead, dissatisfied residents turned up with placards, highlighting the fact that the current Administration is illegal as they called on the David Granger-led Administration to resign from office.

The situation was similar at Light Town, where Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence and Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman were slated to address residents. Meanwhile, at the other end of the region, at Crabwood Creek, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan was greeted with a barrage of protesters when he went into the community.

The protesters also chanted slogans as Minister within Indigenous Affairs Ministry Valerie Lowe spoke to less than ten persons as she announced that General and Regional Elections will be held this year. Also attending the meeting was Minister Annette Ferguson, who explained the Central Government’s role.

At the end of the meeting, the few farmers who attended expressed disappointment, stating that none of the Ministers addressed issues of concern to them – namely agriculture – as rice, cash crop, and cattle farmers are in need of urgent intervention from Central Government to have canals and dams upgraded.