The composition of Guyana’s 10th Parliament offered Guyana’s law makers the possibility of making history. Until yesterday, Wednesday 25TH April 2012, the electorate only saw glimpses of what that composition could mean.
During the course of Wednesday’s Sitting, APNU and AFC combined their voting power in the House to amend significant elements of the 2012 National Budget presented by the PPP/C Cabinet.
The 2012 Budget has been the subject of universal criticism because it seems to completely ignore the mood of the electorate, as regards the need for change on a range of fronts: such as restoring the (financial and operational) independence of Constitutional agencies and offices, such as the Parliament Office, the offices of the Judiciary, the Public and the Police Service Commissions; establishing the Constitutionally mandated Public Procurement Commission to discourage corruption in the award of contracts, at a time when the Executive is devoting increasing proportions of GDP to capital projects; bringing an end to the abuse of Executive power as regards the use of State resources; bringing an end to political and racial discrimination; etc.
Interestingly enough, whilst many of these complaints were economic – the arrangements and financing of the Amaila Falls, the proposed Marriot Hotel, extension of the Cheddi Jagan international airport, those that generated the most widespread public debate and concern were actually political. Some of them were not to be found in the Budget estimates because the Government uses other devices such as NICIL to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny.
It is, therefore, fitting that the Budget items, which provided the first opportunity for the Opposition to jointly change a Budget item, were to be found in the Office of the President and, more specifically, the funding of the two state entities: the National Communication Network (NCN) and the Guyana Information Agency (GINA). These entities are a stark reflection of the manner in which the PPP/C Government has been abusing its position of power in Guyana.
Today’s Stabroek News and Kaieteur News carry the views of the independent owners of the Press on this matter. The fact is that tax-payers’ monies are being illegally used to prosecute the interests of one political Party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). This has to be ended and the resolution of the problem would require the joint selection and appointment of professional and non-political management of these entities.
The Parties followed the cut in the allocations to the NCN and GINA with reductions in a variety of agencies in the cluster of the Office of the President and the Office of the Prime Minister, such as the GPL.
This is the first time ever that a Guyana Budget has been amended by the Legislature. Three points are to be made about these actions:
First the action was not intended to put ordinary people out of work nor to directly penalize citizens and Government employees. However, there was some effort to identify and cut funds that the Government had been using to employ PPP activists. Paying such persons from state revenues and tax resources is widespread in Guyana although it is illegal. Many questions were posed, by Opposition MPs, in order to find out who are among the Contracted Employees and Other, benefitting from this illegal funding of former Ministers and political favourites earning super salaries, and where these payments are to be found.
The Government has already retaliated. In addition to mobilising workers to pressure the Opposition Parties by demonstrating and writing to Leaders, the Government proposes to lay off many workers and to raise some prices and cut services – cricket coverage, films, cultural events etc.
Secondly, these Opposition actions should be seen in the context of a situation where, in December 2011, the Government promised to have the Ministry of Finance (MOF) work with the Opposition Parties on the preparation of the 2012 Budget. Instead, the MOF refused to have a single meeting to this end. It also needs to be seen against a background of more recent attempts by APNU to discuss the most egregious elements of the 2012 Budget with the Government and the PPP political leadership.
The talks led to very little and were even less fruitful when all three Parties were involved. The distinct impression of the Opposition Parties is that the PPP and the MOF, in particular, took a position that not a single figure was to be changed and that everything, especially those relating to attempts to reduce abuse and corruption was non-negotiable. It also appeared that they were of the view that nothing that, in any way, limited their discretionary power or tried to make decision-making more transparent or democratic, was acceptable to them.
The example of NICIL and the management of other key corporations were cases in point. Surprisingly, there was a complete refusal by the PPP to increase public service salaries, except by the unusual device of paying a unilaterally determined sum close to the end of the year, to which the negotiations were supposed to apply.
Thirdly, when the answers provided by the Ministers were satisfactory, the Opposition was willing to withdraw their proposed cuts. This was the case in several instances involving GECOM.
Measures to heal political and industrial relations wounds, such as restoring the subvention to Critchlow Labour College, were rejected. Reducing the Value Added Tax (VAT), and freezing the proposed steep increases in Linden electricity rates were also rejected by the PPP during the bilateral and trilateral meetings.
In the National Assembly, APNU and AFC called for a plan from the PM showing how the GPL would restore the financial viability of the electricity company with the $6.0 Bn subvention it requested and the $5.0 Bn it received.
In addition, the Opposition refused to provide monies to the President and the Prime Minister to reward supporters, throughMinor Works, and to hand out largess to the public. One of the many Chinese projects was denied, because under this project the Government had placed the OLPF project, a project embroiled in controversy over corruption and allegations about the involvement of friends and cronies of the PPP and the former President in particular.
The process of change is likely to be protracted. It involves many steps. Consideration of the Estimates does not permit the Opposition to add new items or to increase sums allocated to Heads. It also cannot directly change policies. Many other steps are required. This is only the first.