The Parliamentary Opposition has noted with deep concern that Government has moved to reduce the $10.29 billion that has been requested by 16 constitutional agencies in their budget 2018 proposals and has therefore demanded a full debate on the matter at the next sitting of Parliament on Friday.
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has reminded that upon assuming office in 2015, the coalition Government had passed legislation to have the budgets of these constitutional agencies considered by the National Assembly separately, from the annual national budget.
In this regard, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Members of Parliament (MPs) will be arguing for the constitutional agencies’ requests to be honoured. Jagdeo said previously these agencies developed their budgets, it goes to the Ministry of Finance and decisions are made based on what can be afforded.
“I thought the whole purpose of the change (in legislation) was so that their (the agencies) budgets would be ring-fenced and the Minister of Finance cannot cut the budgets,” Jagdeo noted, while explaining that the Opposition will be requesting that the Minister give reasons for not approving the budgets.
Constitutional agencies include the Auditor General’s Office, Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as well as several Commissions – Public Procurement Commission, Teaching Service Commission, Public Service Commission, Ethnic Relations Commission, Judicial Service Commission, Human Rights Commission-among others.
Referring to the schedule detailing the budget requests, he noted that Jordan justified the cuts by saying that the reduced allocation takes into account the economic outlook for 2018 for revenue, expenditure and growth in the economy, challenges in implementation encountered in 2017 and annualisation of salaries.
However, the Opposition Leader told the media on Tuesday that the Minister will have to answer specific questions on what the economic outlook for revenue and expenditure is and what challenges were encountered in implementation in 2017, and what is the outlook for growth in the economy.
Jagdeo said, “The country will recall that immediately after the Coalition government took office, it rushed through a law that will give ‘financial autonomy’ and suggested that the Constitutional bodies were not treated with respect under the PPP administration. Since then, we have been considering the budgets for the Constitutional agencies separately from the core Budget debate.”
He continued, “…we have had some difficulty in the past two years, addressing this part of the debate. Somehow in the head of the Minister, he feels that this part of the Budget should not be debated fully… our members of parliament are in no mood to go there and to be controlled in a narrow framework where the Government will once again hide behind parliamentary rules to avoid open debate on these issues.”
Jagdeo said the PPP is of the firm belief that the $10 billion budgeted for the constitutional agencies should be a matter that will be subject to a full debate. “We support the view that if you give financial autonomy, then you must live with the consequences….we will be aggressively challenging the reasons he give for cutting the budgets of these agencies,” he added.
Further, Jagdeo warned there will be “major expressions of disproval” if there is an attempt to truncate debates on this matter. “I hope they will not say we are vulgar again when we try to represent the people…if the Speaker and the Government try to truncate us raising these legitimate concerns of people across Guyana and try to shield the minister from giving explanations for acting contrary to the legislation that they themselves passed, then you are going to see major expressions of disapproval from our side,” the Opposition Leader said.
Jagdeo also expressed the view that the requests made by the constitutional agencies can be met, if the wastefulness undertaken by the coalition Government is dealt with.