THE inaugural budget of the David Granger-led APNU+AFC coalition Government will be read before the National Assembly today, possibly in the presence of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). Entitled “A fresh start to the good life in a green economy,” this budget is expected to disclose the prospects and vision of the newly-elected APNU+AFC Administration.
Budget presentations usually last for three hours, depending on the will of the Finance Minister, but Finance Minister Winston Jordan has reassured the Guyana Chronicle that his presentation may not be that lengthy.
The Minister said statements made by him and by Government officials in the lead-up to the budget presentation already reflect the intentions of the new Administration for the upcoming fiscal
Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson told reporters recently that his Ministry was satisfied with the allocations given to the agency, which was formerly the Ministry of Transport and Hydraulics.
Patterson expressed satisfaction after meeting with the Finance Minister and reviewing the allocations assigned to his Ministry.
Although he did not specify what sums were given to his Ministry, Patterson said, “Our biggest challenge will be, of course, executing all the works within the timeframe provided, whereby the Minister of Finance has asked that we complete all our projects substantively at the end of 2015.”
Berbice Bridge Toll
In the spirit of Budget 2015, promises have also been made to temper the current rates paid by commuters of the Berbice River Bridge, constructed under the former People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government.
The bridge and its company, the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated, is a Public/Private Partnership between Government and a number of other private investors, so the Government has made clear it will not be dictating to the company to lower the rates currently charged to access the bridge.
The Guyana Chronicle reported in early August that Berbicians who regularly access the bridge were in high spirits on learning of the decision of the Government to offer to the Bridge Company a subsidy which would ultimately reduce the toll charged by that company.
One taxi driver was quoted as saying, “The fare to just cross the bridge is $300; a return fare is double that figure. A driver plying the bridge on a double-trip will have to pay $4,400, which is equivalent to gasoline needed for the journey. With a reduced toll, the passenger will be faced with a reduced fare.”
Concessions for gold miners
With consistent coverage of the declining world price for gold, Governance Minister Raphael Trotman told the press corps during a recent post-Cabinet press briefing that the Finance Minister had met with the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA). The body also met with President David Granger. Coming out of the discussion, which addressed the falling price of gold on the world market, Minister Trotman said a promise of concessions in the 2015 budget was made to the group by the Finance Minister.
While acknowledging that all requests from the Association could not be facilitated, Trotman reassured that the group was satisfied that “concessions are going to be offered in the 2015 budget.”
While the Finance Minister is correct in that Government Ministers have hinted, time and again, about budgetary allocations, there were bandied around other claims which have put the new Administration into defence mode, although it is just three months in office.
Public servant salary increases
Concerns of 100% salary increases for Government Ministers were raised in the public. While Governance Minister Raphael Trotman neither confirmed nor denied that there were in fact some increases for members of the new Administration, he told the press during a post-cabinet briefing that the 100% figures quoted in the media were erroneous.
These concerns were tied into a promise made by the Government to consider an “across-the-board” increase in salary for public servants.
According to Minister Trotman, a study on reviewing the salaries of public servants was being carried out by Professor Harold Lutchman, who is considered quite knowledgeable on the public service.
The new Administration is employing what it calls a ‘fresh approach’ to management of the country’s resources, with the aim of setting up the framework for how Government will be approaching the governance of the economy over the next five years.
This new approach, the Finance Minister told the Chronicle recently, includes a focus on governance, social cohesion, building safer communities, linking the coastland with the hinterland, taking care of the environment, emphasising green technology, support for the implementation of environmentally-friendly processes for the extractive sector, and the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Other budget assistance includes financial assistance to the state-funded National Communications Network (NCN), which has not received funding from the National Assembly since the APNU and AFC controlled a majority in the House between 2011 and 2015. Considerations will also be made for an increase in Old Age Pension.
The reading of the budget in August, something that is not customarily done, was facilitated by a motion recently passed in the National Assembly to suspend Standing Order 9.
That clause in the Standing Orders governs the functioning of the National Assembly, and was put in place to ensure that no sittings or business of the National Assembly be conducted between August and October.
This particular clause was placed in the Standing Orders to ensure a recess of the House between August and October. The move to suspend Standing Order 9 came as a result of circumstances attending the regular sittings of the House, which previously sat in July 2014 before its June 2015 reconvening was suspended following a decision by then President Donald Ramotar in October to stall sittings of the House to November. The House was, on November 10, suspended and finally dissolved in February 2015.
This translates to an almost one-year period of suspension within the National Assembly, between the last sitting in 2014 and the first sitting in 2015.
The PPP/C has not made an appearance since the convening of the 11th Parliament in June this year, about a month after that party lost the national elections.
The PPP/C sat in consultations some time ago on expectations for Budget 2015. This will be the first time the party sits on the Opposition side of the National Assembly since it came to power in 1992.
By Derwayne Wills