The National Assembly this morning cleared the $2.9 Billion in advances taken from the Contingency Fund by the Government. The approval, however, followed a series of exchanges as the Opposition grilled the Government on its decision to take money from the Fund for activities deemed not to be urgent or unforeseen.
At the level of the Committee of Supply, Opposition Member of Parliament, Volda Lawrence asked Prime Minister, Mark Phillips to defend the additional $1.7B allocated to his Office when in February, the House approved a whopping $3.5B for issuance of subsidies and contributions to local organisations.
MP Lawrence was keen on pointing out that the sum taken from the Contingency Fund represents almost 50% of the voted provision included in the National Budget. “Could it have been a case of improper budgeting?” the Opposition MP asked.
In response, the Prime Minister explained that the added provision was as a result of the steep rise in fuel prices, resulting in Government having to pay more for the provision of electricity to the people of Linden, Region 10.
“As a caring government, Mr Speaker, we have decided that notwithstanding the increase cost of fuel, we will absorb that cost and not pass it onto the people of Guyana. And Mr Speaker, that is the only reason we are asking for this money is to keep the lights on in Region 10,” the Prime Minister told the House.
According to the Prime Minister, $1.7B is reflective of an invoice submitted by Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Incorporated (BOSAI) for electricity supplied to the Linden Electricity Company Incorporated (LECI).
Dissatisfied with the response, Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey Norton pressed the Prime Minister for a detailed breakdown of the increases that led to the need for an additional $1.7 Billion.
But the questions did not sit well with the Prime Minister, who told the House that he will not provide information that is already in the public domain as he alluded to the increasing price of fuel on the world market.
“The information is available in the public, it is not my duty to present information that is available in public,” Prime Minister Marks said while accusing the Opposition Leader of objecting to provisions for the people of Linden.
But Mr Norton said while the Opposition is not against Government subsidizing the cost of electricity in Linden, it has a responsibility to scrutinize the expenditure.
The Government was also grilled on its decision to take $48.851M from the Contingency Fund for the hosting of Amerindian Heritage Month, when it had ample time to approach the House for the sum to be taken from the Consolidated Fund.
It was MP Lawrence, who enquired from Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai why the Government had not included sufficient provisions in the National Budget for Amerindian Heritage Month.
In response, Minister Sukhai explained that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Amerindian Affairs Ministry had downsized the activities for Amerindian Heritage Month, and it was not until mid-year, when the majority of the COVID-19 measures were lifted, that it decided to host the month of activities, as was done pre-pandemic.
MP Lawrence told the House that based on the Minister’s explanation, it was clear that the activities were not unforeseen.
“Mr Speaker, this is a clear abuse of the Contingency Fund because it does not meet the requirement, this activity took place in September,” MP Lawrence concluded.
Minister responsible for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh said COVID-19 created a lot of uncertainties, and it was not until the numbers were on the decline that the Government opted to expand its calendar of activities for Amerindian Heritage Month 2022.
“As any competent Government would do, we continued to monitor the situation as it evolved, and as it evolved, and as this government under the distinguished stewardship of my colleague, Mr Frank Anthony, managed to bring COVID-19 under control, something that Ms Volda Lawrence failed to do abysmally when she held that portfolio…,” Minister Singh said.
He said the APNU+AFC’s line of questioning was very telling.
But the Opposition Leader said the coalition remains committed to the Indigenous People of Guyana, however, it must defend the country’s resources.
“He keeps mentioning unforeseen but the law says unforeseen and urgent. Now, Mr Speaker, if in March COVID went, you had between March and September. Yes, we admit it is unforeseen but it could not have been urgent if you had until September to apply to the consolidated fund, and the reason it was done, is because for the Consolidated Fund, you have to get parliamentary approval and they wanted to be arbitrary and dictatorial as they are normally are.”
Monday’s approved advances, also included approximately $740.1M for the Agriculture Ministry, $360M for the Ministry of Natural Resources and $50.5M for the Ministry of Home Affairs.