Government on Thursday afternoon using its one seat majority in the National Assembly approved in excess of $116M in supplementary provisions to facilitate the establishment of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), that is now under the auspices of the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
Brushing aside the concerns raised by the Parliamentary Opposition over its legality to do so, the Governing side of the House approved, among other things, remuneration for staff, including 5 within the Managerial department, 13 from the Technical Department, 12 which make up the Supervisory and Clerical staff as well as 16 for services and related staff, totaling $89.9M.
Additionally, provisions were also provided for two new vehicles for the newly established SARA in the amount of $13M as well as another $13.4M for furnishing and equipping a newly rented building to house the entity.
During the almost four hours debate, Opposition Members of Parliament fielded several questions- including where the new agency is to be located. However, these were either deflected or left unanswered by the Government Ministers.
In the initial stages of the arguments, with the motion being put forward by the Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Basil Williams,SC, Former Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall questioned as to what basis or authority was he making the request for the supplementary provisions.
However, Williams told the house that he is the designated Minister under the SARA Act. This was met with a rebuttal from Nandlall who indicated that there was “no designated Minister under the Act.”
“ I repeat that the SARA agency is not answerable to a Minister…that is the basics, that is public knowledge…” he said while suggesting the Williams point him to the Section of the Act which gave the authority to the Minister.
To this end, the Legal Affairs Minister told the house he had “nothing further to add.”
However, the Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland insisted that Williams’ answer Nandlall’s question. As such, he responded “I indicated twice before that the Minister of legal affairs is the designated minister under the SARA act…”
Moreover, the Opposition members called for full disclosures of the the salary scale of each staff who will be appointed within the Agency.
To this, Williams promised to lay over the information at a later date.
Former Minister, Clement Rohee requested that Williams provide an organizational structure of the SARA Act.
“The agency is headed by a Director, and deputy Director… and there is a provision in the Act that within four months, the Parliamentary Committee appoints the Director…that time has not elapsed…”Williams noted.
Rohee pressed for a printed copy of the SARA structure “along with the persons that are to be attached to each of those structures…so that we may be acquainted with their office as well as the structure.”
The House also heard former Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Opposition Member, Juan Edghill questioning the reason for requesting a supplementary provision for SARA when there was no provision made in the first instance (during the Budget 2017).
Minister of Finance, Winston Jordon then took to Williams’ defence to state that up to five supplementary papers can be brought to the House per year to be amended- subtracted or added to budget.
Edghill then requested that Jordan point him to the section of the law which allows for a supplementary allocation for a line item that did not exist in the original budget.
“I’ve answered that question already… this is a supplementary bill to the original budget…Is the member [Edghill] suggesting that a Budget has to have every single thing in the entire country and at no time circumstances arise where amendments have to be made?” Jordan questioned while noting that he would not be commenting further on the matter.
Nandlall then raised the question as to where SARA is located and where it is operating out of, since the provisions for rent and furniture were being requested.
To that, Williams answered “[we are] trying to secure a building to house the agency.”
“I am asking present tense…Where is the current office located? There is an agency called SARA headed by persons …where is it physically located now?” Nandlall persisted, resulting in Williams finally asserting that “SARA has not moved out from its previous lodgings…for the time being…we are housed within the Ministry of the Presidency.”
As the debate continued, Edghill queried how much of the money which was appropriated for State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) during the 2017 Budget had already been expended, as well as if there is a provision to move monies from SARU to SARA.
“My remit is with the SARA agency which only came into existence recently…[I have] no competence in relation to matters involving SARU” Williams maintained even after Edghill continued to press the matter.
Prior to becoming SARA approximately $19.7M had been allocated to SARU for the purchase of vehicles but at the end of Thursday’s proceedings that amount could not be accounted for.
Meanwhile, Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira told the house that the State Assets Fund does not provide for SARA. As such she questioned the grounds on which Government was making the request.
She further proposed that the supplementary provision be postponed until Government amends the Act. However, the supplementary allocation for the SARA was approved. (Ramona Luthi)