Bharrat Jagdeo piggybank – Opposition may seek to surcharge for illegal Govt spending
“In this country, men believe that they can break the law and do whatever it is that they like because those who are close to the government have been able to get away with it”- APNU MP Carl Greenidge
The National Assembly will meet tomorrow to debate whether it should approve some $5.7B which
has been expended from the Contingencies Fund during the last quarter of 2011, but despite the opposition believing that the money was utilised illegally, they may have no option but to vote in agreement.
This however does not mean that it will be business as usual for the Government as it relates to the Supplementary Provisions and Finances in General.
Former Finance Minister and Executive Member of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Carl Greenidge, in an exclusive interview with this publication, signaled that come Thursday when the issue comes up for debate, the opposition will be pushing a gamut of measures, including police action.
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh on Friday last tabled the Financial Papers and signalled to the Speaker that he would like to have the consideration done this Thursday.
The Opposition will however have to vote for its approval, given the fact that should they vote negatively, the Contingencies Fund will not be able to be replenished to the tune of some $5.7B.
For several years now, the Opposition Parties in the House have been lamenting the manner in which the money is being used.
According to the Auditor General, the Contingencies Fund continues to be abused, with withdrawals that do not fit the criteria for the related disbursements.
Greenidge explained to this publication that the request represents two different categories, namely some for moneys already spent and another to pay for commitments made that were not previously paid for.
He explained that a supplementary provision is simply an additional request for a previous allocation, but stressed that it has to be for an emergency purpose.
Greenidge says that the Finance Minister, when he goes to Parliament, is supposed to explain to the House, in detail, how and why the money was spent, and what the urgency was.
He asserted that a supplementary provision is supposed to be used in unavoidable cases, where if the administration did not make the expenditure, then there would be irreparable damage to the system.
The Former Finance Minister pointed out that the Contingencies Fund operates akin to an impress or petty cash – as float money that can be accessed by the administration providing the requisite criteria are met.
“What the government does is write cheques against a Contingencies Fund. That Contingencies Fund is only supposed to be tapped into in these (urgent or unavoidable) circumstances.”
He reiterated that if there was no previous allocation made, such as for a road programme or capital expenditure such as the purchase of a building – then the administration ought not to be able to make a “draw down” for such expenditure.
“You have to wait until the next year,” Greenidge explained.
He questioned the motivation behind some of the expenditure for which approval is being sought, drawing particular reference to the purchase of ferries.
In the Supplementary Provision sought by Dr Singh, there is expenditure for the Ministry of Public Works and Communication, which received an additional $2.6B in addition to $366M already received for the acquisition of two ferries.
Greenidge explained that the Chinese delivered both of the vessels early, “and yet there is a request for funds to pay.”
He stressed that it is not a case where the Parliament has to approve this expenditure, but he also gave clarity to the issue with respect to its being float money.
Greenidge explained that when moneys are spent from that which is allocated as a float and there is an absence of necessary documentation to show that the money was spent legitimately, “then the float can’t be replenished.”
“The Parliament does not have to approve this expenditure, and could take action which requires that the officials responsible for carrying out the expenditure, if it is deem it illegal, are surcharged.”
The Former Finance Minister explained that a request can be made of the Auditor General to investigate and call in the police.
Greenidge explained that APNU’s position will be to “ensure that the request that is laid before us is consistent with the law.”
He reminded that the law requires that the Minister provide certain information as it relates to the expenditures, as against the traditional vague answers that were provided.
He added that APNU is in talks with the Alliance for Change, and they are in agreement that the gross violations of the laws on the part of the administration must stop.
Greenidge said that in previous years it was not a case where the opposition voted in favour of the numerous Supplementary Provisions sought, but rather, it was a case where the government had a majority in Parliament which would mean that regardless of the concerns raised by the opposition, the Parliament would approve the expenditures.
“The problem has been that the government had a majority and therefore had enough votes for it not to matter what the opposition said.”
He also lamented the confinement of the Auditor General.
“The Office of the Auditor General has essentially been held captive, meaning that where they should properly identify illegality they identify some and leave others…and where action should have been taken against officers, action was not taken.”
This, he said, was the case, as “having persuaded people to break the law, people believed that the presidency can protect them.”
“The officials felt that they could have continued to break the laws forever, but what you see has happened in late 2011 has served to surprise the government.”
Greenidge pointed to the fact that regardless of the fact that the laws have been broken for 20 years by the administration, should the system be tightened, then the same laws can hold officials accountable.
He stressed that as long as the systems in place are tightened, then there is no way those officials can say that they have been doing the same thing for years in an attempt to negate the illegality.
Greenidge is certain that some of the money for which the present request covers needs to be investigated, and he added that “a good deal of it took place around the time of the elections.”
He suggested that the money has been used for other things, saying that “this is a massive amount spent around the election period”.
“All the parties have been complaining. Civil society has been complaining. Even in India there are laws against carrying out expenditures and signing agreements so close to elections. But they (PPP) have gone ahead and done it because they are powerful,” said Greenidge who opined that the ruling administration believed that they would have won the election outright leaving the opposition with little or no recourse.
“Where the law is weak or unclear we want it tightened,” Greenidge emphasized, while stating that the opposition will be pushing for amendments to the relevant pieces of legislation to have Ministers held accountable also.
“In other countries where there are violations on the part of Ministers they resign, but this is not the case in Guyana. In this country, men believe that they can break the law and do whatever it is that they like, because those who are close to the government have been able to get away with it.”
Under the expenditures for which approval will be sought, under the Office of the Prime Minister’s Electrification Programme an additional $491.6M was sought in addition to the more than $6B already allocated.
The Office of the President was also advanced some $25.5M for National and Other Events, and according to the Financial Paper, the money is a provision for expenditure associated with the conferment of National Awards and other events hosted by the State. This is in addition to the $8.7M already allocated to the Office of the President for such expenditures.
At the Office of the Prime Minister, approval is being sought for in excess of $1.5B expenditure in addition to $100M already allocated for Subsidies and Contributions to Local Organization.
The Financial Paper explains that the money is a provision for additional subsidy to the Lethem Power Company ($33.7M) and the Guyana Power and Light ($1.5B) for the purchase of fuel for its continued operations.
The Guyana Police Force is also listed for a range of activities related to the 2011 General and Regional Elections, including $4M to pay the rental for radio sets as well as an additional $90.6M for feeding rural constables who worked on Election Day as well as inline police ranks and intensified patrols.
Alliance For Change Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan is on record as saying “While it is alright for the Government to spend moneys from the Contingencies Fund and then seek approval after, the supplementary provisions that are sought for each year demonstrate the fact that the budget every year is deceitful.”
Assented to by former President Bharrat Jagdeo, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act stipulates that “The Minister, when introducing a supplementary appropriation Bill, shall present to the National Assembly the reasons for the proposed variations and provide a supplementary document describing the impact that the variations, if approved, will have on the financial plan outlined in the annual budget.”
The Act also stipulates that: The Minister shall not, in any fiscal year, introduce more than five supplementary appropriation Bills under this section, except in circumstances of grave national emergency, where the Minister may introduce a Bill, intituled an emergency appropriation Bill, to meet the situation.”
The Bill to be debated tomorrow represents the seventh and eight requests made by the Finance Minister.