The examination of Capital estimates got off to a rocky start at the 99th Sitting of the National Assembly on Monday, and continued with the Parliamentary Opposition’s questions about budget cuts for specific agencies being stonewalled by Finance Minister Winston Jordan.
Several questions were put to the minister — including requests for details on the formula and rationale used for cutting the agencies’ budget requests, and the economic outlook — but they made little headway, as Jordan constantly referred to the Finance Ministry’s documented comments on the cuts.
In comments made when the cuts were made, the Finance Ministry had noted that “the recommended allocation takes into account the economic outlook for 2019 for revenue, expenditure, growth in the economy, consideration of the agency’s request within national development priorities, and annualisation of salaries.”
On the matter of cuts from the proposed $1.8 billion budget request for the Parliament Office, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira asked the minister for the economic outlook in 2018. Jordan would only say that the outlook is a positive one, with increases in revenue. Nevertheless, the minister noted that the request had exceeded available revenue.
When asked by Opposition Parliamentarian Juan Edghill whether information from the Parliament Office had informed his cuts to its proposal, the minister resorted to the quote mentioned above. When Edghill rephrased the question, Jordan would only say he had taken into account the budgetary needs of the executive, and subventions as well as the economic outlook. He added that he was not responsible for the priorities of the Parliament Office in regard to spending the money.
Asked if the Parliament Office staff had submitted documents during their engagement with the Ministry, Jordan said, “You’ll appreciate I’m in charge of policy and not the nitty gritty of what goes on in my office. I think I’m the wrong person they’re asking. I cannot answer that essentially. What I do know is that whatever was budgeted, they got what was budgeted.”
Teixeira also made an attempt to have the Parliament Office’s budget restored. She moved a motion, seconded by Parliamentarian Juan Edghill, for the office’s original budget proposal of $1.8 billion to be passed untouched. The Government side, however, voted down the motion.
Earlier in the day, the Government and Opposition had clashed when it was revealed that they would proceed with the debate on financial allocations for constitutional bodies without taking into account the report of the Business subcommittee of the Committee of Supply.
When she addressed the matter, Teixeira noted that the Opposition had no wish to delay the budget of these bodies. She said there was an understanding at a previous subcommittee meeting, and that the Opposition should have the information at hand.
Meanwhile, Opposition MP and subcommittee member Edghill decried the disadvantage at which the members were placed due to the absence of the report and accompanying information. He called for it to be made available forthwith. As a result, the stalemate forced a suspension of the sitting until further notice.
The suspension was taken, and the Sitting eventually resumed at approximately 17:30h, when Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, informed the assembly that there had been little progress. But efforts to proceed despite the absence of the information caused Opposition Parliamentarian Priya Manickchand to stress the need to follow procedure.
“The last time we met here, which was over two weeks ago, at 1:30am we raised this issue and we had over a half-hour discussion going back and forth. It was unresolved. We were very clear that the law that binds us all in this National Assembly was very clear about how we must receive this. We said to you very clearly that documents that come before us must be the ones that are submitted.
“The Finance Minister has no jurisdiction, no right, no ability, to alter that and present it to us in a document him, or you, or anyone in the Parliament Office thinks will be convenient. What the law says is we must get it as it is submitted. We do not have that. If we’re to represent the people of this country, we must see what was submitted,” Manickchand stressed.
When the Sitting finally resumed at 18:30 hrs, Scotland revealed that they still had not reached an agreement, but would nevertheless move forward with the review of the allocations. As it turned out, however, the budgets for the constitutional agencies were passed, inclusive of cuts.
Sixteen constitutional agencies submitted requests for monies out of the upcoming 2019 Budget, amounting to $13.2 billion. Finance Ministry budget cuts left only $11.4 billion from that sum. Among the agencies that had their budgets cut were the Parliament Office, the Audit Office of Guyana, the Guyana Elections Commission, and the Supreme Court of Judicature. (Jarryl Bryan)