By Kurt Campbell
[www.inewsguyana.com] – The Combined Parliamentary Opposition has disapproved funding provided to the Office of the President for administrative services for the fiscal year 2014 as allotted in the 2014 national budget.
A total of $1.3B was allotted under current expenditure while the Office was allocated $3.8B under capital expenditure.
The Opposition’s contention seemed to lay in the monies allocated to the National Communications Network (NCN) and the Government Information Agency (GINA).
Opposition Parliamentarians observed that while the House reduced funding for these two agencies to $1 in 2013, the estimates of the 2014 budget reflect that monies were still expended for these two agencies from the consolidated fund and called on the government to explain.
The government side said that their actions to restore the money were guided by the Chief Justice Ian Chang’s ruling subsequent to the cut in 2013. More particularly, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, in the face of arguments by Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge that the government cannot spend without the permission of the House, explained that following the CJ’s ruling Cabinet requested an opinion from him on whether the cuts can be restored.
According to Nandlall, guided by the constitution he advised that where monies were insufficient for whatever reason, the Finance Minister could either come to National Assembly with a supplementary provision seeking permission to use money or can use money from the consolidated fund and submit a statement detailing how the money was spent.
He said such a statement was presented wherever there was a restoration of monies that were cut.
Despite this explanation, Opposition MPs continued to advance the argument that the move by the Executive was unconstitutional.
GINA was allocated $139M while NCN was allotted $81M in the 2014 budget under current expenditure. Under capital expenditure, GINA was allocated $8M while NCN was given $60M.
Among projects affected is the rehabilitation of the Office of the President, purchase of vehicles, purchase of furniture and equipment, provision for disaster preparedness and response initiatives, construction of building and purchase of equipment for GINA and provision of fence, guard hut, vehicle, media production and transmission improvement for NCN.
AFC’s Moses Nagamootoo expressed regret that other projects and services had to suffer because they were linked with NCN and GINA. He questioned why the government did not delink the two agencies when they knew that the Opposition had reservations.
The government said that the budget was presented in the same way it has been done previous years, adding that the Opposition has over the years failed to honour promises made during talks and debunked claims that it refused to participate in the sub-committee established by the Speaker to consider proposed cuts to the budget.
The Committee of Supply was delayed for several minutes as the government and Opposition went back and forth as to who should accept blame for the breakdown of talks before the budget was presented and now during the consideration of estimates.
During the consideration, the House was informed that there was 39 staff at GINA while NCN is staffed with 236 persons, 177 permanent staff and 59 temporary staff.
The House was also informed that audited statements for the period 2004 – 2007 have been completed for GINA. All financial statements are said to be up to date for both GINA and NCN. NCN’s last audited report was 2011.
In relation to the Office of the President, the House learned that there were 102 vehicles at the Office while 15 are in the process of being sold.
Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill who was responding to questions informed that the monies being sought this year is to purchase another six vehicles among which is a replacement vehicle for the President.