The proposed budgets of several constitutional agencies for 2016, including the Office of the Opposition Leader, the Parliament Office and the Director of Pubic Prosecutions (DPP) Chambers were yesterday reduced by Government using its one-seat majority in the National Assembly.
Yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly was the first for this year during which the House considered the Current and Capital Estimates for the 16 constitutional bodies, which were given fiscal autonomy last year.
The budgets proposed by the Office of the Opposition Leader and the Parliament Office were $20,137,000 and $1,395,865,000 respectively.
Finance Minister Winston Jordan recommended that the sums for the two agencies which were combined into one proposal of $1,416,596,000 – be reduced by $42,243,000. The Finance Minister stated that his recommendation was an affordable amount.
However, the Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira asked the Finance Minister to explain the rationale behind the budget cuts of the country’s most important lawmaking body. In response, Jordan cited the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2015, which gives him the power to make recommendations on the proposed sums submitted by the constitutional agencies.
Meanwhile, Teixeira’s colleague parliamentarian, Irfaan Ali, requested the Minister share the relevant documents, studies or information that support his contention and conclusion that there was a problem of “affordability”.
Opposition Member, Bishop Juan Edghill further asked whether the Minister in his reductions considered that both the Parliament and Leader of the Opposition Offices would be affected.
In response, the only explanation Jordan opted to give was that the recommended figure was “carefully looked at” by his office. He further stated, “The law just gives me the opportunity to make a recommendation on the lump sum, as to whether they want to argue whether this is right or wrong, that’s the law and I’ve done so. Maybe it has to be improved down the road, but as it exists in the moment. I’ve complied with the law.”
At this point, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo rose to his feet, reiterating that the Finance Minister owed the National Assembly and the people of Guyana a proper explanation as to why the reduction was recommended. He also noted that the previous system used to finance these agencies was more transparent.
“We would’ve been better off with the old system. It was more transparent. We would have been better off because at least then at that time, we would have had explanations line by line as to why cuts were effected and questions would have been posed,” Jagdeo stated.
According to the Opposition Leader, the House, and the country by extension, has not advanced in terms of transparency, adding that the Finance Minister is hiding behind the law and evading questions.
On the other hand, Government parliamentarian Raphael Trotman dismissed Jagdeo’s comments, stating that the country had come full circle in terms of achieving transparency. He pointed out that Government had tried to use the previous system earlier in the evening to consider the estimates, but this route was objected to by the Opposition.
Following more than 30 minutes of heated debate among members of the two sides of the House, the budget estimates for the Parliament Office and the Office of the Opposition Leader were approved in the reduced combined figure of $1,373,759,000.
Meanwhile, the coalition Government also used its one-seat majority during yesterday’s sitting of the House to reduced the proposed budget of the DPP Chambers by a whopping Gy$74M. The DPP Chambers’ budget for the year now stands at Gy$160 million.
Former Attorney General and PPP/C Member of Parliament said the reduction of the DPP Chambers budget is a clear violation of the Law and the Constitution.