Combined Opposition slashes $37.4B from 2014 Budget

Combined Opposition slashes $37.4B from 2014 Budget

APRIL 17, 2014 | BY  | …Amaila vote responsible for $22B
Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh defends the budgetary allocations

Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh defends the budgetary allocations

Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, last month presented a $220B Budget for 2014. By the time the voting was finished yesterday, some $37.4B was slashed from the Estimates, leaving the administration with only $182.6B.

Those affected by the cuts are the Ministries of Health, Amerindian Affairs, Public Works, Finance and Office of the President.

Yesterday marked the final day for the consideration of the 2014 estimates and saw $22.2B being lopped from the Capital Programme for the Ministry of Finance. The contentious allocation in the Ministry’s Capital Programme was that of a $16B allocation for the Amaila Falls Hydro Electric Project under the Bharrat Jagdeo-led Low Carbon Development Strategy.  

When the project came up for consideration, Alliance For Change (AFC) Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan, requested that allocation be delinked from the rest of the Programme, given that the party had no problems with other allocations but maintains its positions on the Amaila Falls Hydro Electric Project.

He reminded that the party wanted to await the findings of the Inter American Development Bank’s due dilligence report on the project before it can take a positive vote for the allocation.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) financial spokesperson, Carl Greenidge, told the Members of the House that Government cannot at the time of requesting a vote in the allocation say that it is now desirous of having discussions with the opposition.
According to Greenidge it has to be the other way around in that, there must be the discussions prior to the vote.

He too called for a delinking of the project which would allow for that one to be voted on separately as against having to vote down the entire programme, under which the allocation is made.

Greenidge said, too, that there were still a number of issues that APNU flagged in relation to the project and that these remain outstanding. There is the financing package and the contract as a whole.

According to Greenidge, the parties should wait until the third quarter, when the Due Diligence Report would be available.

Between then and now, “we would have had an opportunity to discuss.”
The Minister in response to the calls by the opposition members said, “We have no difficulty continuing conversation and providing information.”

He however, pointed to the fact that last year when the House showed reluctance, “just that signal of tentativeness lost us several months and hurt the relationship.”
Dr. Singh said that the international stakeholders had put a brake on pursuit of the project at that time.

According to Dr. Singh, a single signal of uncertainty on the part of the legislature could derail the project.
As he implored for a positive vote Dr. Singh told the House, “It is extremely difficult for a large investor to say to its board, let us approve a project when the national jurisdiction is showing reluctance…I urge that we don’t do anything to derail this project, we can talk tomorrow.”
This however failed to garner the support of the Opposition which voted against the $22.2B allocation.

Meanwhile during the consideration of the recurring expenditure for the Ministry of Finance, it was revealed that there is a $4.4B allocation under a renamed line item in order to cater for salary increases for public servants.
The Minister however could not say what per cent increase there would be for the public servants as this would be determined through the collective bargaining agreement with the unions.
He did point out that the entire $4.4B would not be used for pay increases alone, but rather to meet any shortfalls in employment or new recruits.
According to the Minister, a shortfall in payment arises when there are promotions to public servants during the course of the year.

The Minister was also grilled on a more than $226M subsidy to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) as well as an inquiry into why the money was increased from $116M.
Dr. Singh told the House that firstly, the money is not a subsidy to NIS per say and reminded that among the measures to revive the entity, a decision was taken to increase contributions by one per cent.
Government, he reminded, took the responsibility to make the payment for employers and employees for those earning $50,000 or less each month.
The money, he said, is used to make the payments to NIS.
As it relates to the increase, the Minister said that when the decisions was taken to make the payments it was effective June last year, meaning that the allocation was only meant to meet payments for seven months.
The increase this year is to meet payments for the entire year.

The allocations for the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport as well as the Ministry of Tourism Industry and Commerce were also scrutinized yesterday and approved untouched
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