–says Minister Teixeira, confirms that process for preparation of Budget 2020 has commenced
By Navendra Seoraj
CONVENING of the 12th Parliament could take place in about two weeks, as government moves to get everything in place for a return to one of the most powerful organs of the land, said Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira.
There has been no sitting of the National Assembly since May, 2019. This was due mainly to the passage of a Motion of No-Confidence against the former A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Government.
The then Parliamentary Opposition had secured the support of then Government Member of Parliament, Charrandass Persaud, to get an edge over the Government in House, in December, 2018.
Although the motion was passed in the National Assembly, there were a slew of legal challenges which protracted the process and allowed sittings to be convened. Those sitting were, however, only attended by members on the then governing side, as members of the then Parliamentary Opposition had committed to attending Parliament only after the completion of General and Regional Elections.
Those elections have since been held and though there was a five-month impasse after polling day, on March 2, 2020, the end result was a victory for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
This now paves the way for a return to the National Assembly, and, when asked about this, Minister Teixeira told this publication that it could take place in “two weeks’ time.”
“I really can’t say, I have said it could take place by two weeks’ time, but I cannot go further than that right now,” said the minister.
Sections of the media had reported, recently, that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has written to political parties on their requirement to soon submit their lists of potential parliamentarians.
It was reported that the Office of the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, issued letters to political parties, requesting their lists of parliamentary representatives, thus initiating the process of appointing a new batch of Members of Parliament.
According to the final result of the elections, the PPP/C will hold a majority in the National Assembly with 33 seats; the APNU/AFC Coalition will have 31 seats, while the joinder parties –A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), and The New Movement (TNM) – will have one seat.
Upon their return to parliament, Members of Parliament will elect a Speaker to preside over the proceedings of the House. The Speaker oversees the administration of the House and chairs several committees, including the Parliamentary Management Committee.
The Speaker is also the spokesperson and representative of the National Assembly in its relations with the executive and other bodies outside of the House. The last Speaker of the National Assembly was Dr. Barton Scotland.
The passage of a National Budget will also be high on the agenda, as the country is already eight months into the year and is faced with the challenges caused by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Minister Teixeira confirmed that the process has started with regards to budget preparation. The country’s last budget, Budget 2019, was passed in December 2018 to the tune of $300.7B.
The National Budget, as observed in previous years, is prepared by the Ministry of Finance and tabled in the National Assembly by the Minister of Finance, and, while a minister has not been identified as yet by the incumbent, the Office of the President has confirmed that it will have oversight for the areas of Finance and Natural Resources.
Just last week, it was reported that the newly-elected PPP/C Government is still in “search mode,” when it comes to the appointment of someone to the post of Minister of Finance.
President Irfaan Ali had said his transition team has not yet identified an individual for the position, but hopes to do so soon, as all options are being reviewed.
“We are looking at the variables and we are still in search mode, so I cannot confirm any individual. We have not identified an individual,” said the president while responding to questions from the media, on the sidelines of a swearing-in ceremony for 19 ministers of government, last Wednesday.
In the structure of governance and government, the transition team has reached out to many individuals, but no one individual in relation to finance.
The finance minister holds a key portfolio, as he/she has oversight for government’s spending and plays a critical role in the preparation of a National Budget. Prior to 2015, Dr. Ashni Singh had served as the Minister of Finance under the Donald Ramotar-led administration.
While several ministers have already been appointed, Dr. Ali said the post of finance minister remains critical and more “critical” appointments will be made soon. He, however, said that, until a minister is appointed, the president has responsibility for that sector.
“And, with the skillset that we have at the moment in the Office of the President, with the former president (Bharrat Jagdeo), we are hoping to move quickly on a number of issues at the financial level, but it is an area that we are still searching for potential candidates,” said the president.
The work of government is, however, not hindered by the absence of a finance minister, as work is ongoing in relation to the preparation of a National Budget.
President Ali had said government has been doing an assessment of the current economic situation and the availability of resources.
“That is ongoing, and what we have found is alarming in some of these areas,” said the President, noting that a lot has to do with the recent management of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.
To this end, President Ali assured that financing for initiatives to curb the spread of COVID-19, will be a top priority for government.
The urgent need for the passage of a budget was recently highlighted by Head of the Department of Economics at the University of Guyana, Sydney Armstrong, who believes that the swift passage of a national budget would create some traction and stability for the economy.
“There is the need for President Ali and his team to swiftly pass a budget for 2020 so as to create some traction for this economy in this difficult time, and at the same time think about Budget 2021,” the economist told the Guyana Chronicle, in a recent interview.
Armstrong strongly advised that the proposed budget be “people-focused”, and especially give priority to vulnerable groups.
He feels that essentially, it should focus on such key sectors as health, education, agriculture, infrastructure and industries, all of which should be inextricably linked to the new Oil-and-Gas Sector, which should be its central feature.
“As a nation, we are at a defining moment, given the development of our Oil-and-Gas Sector,” Armstrong said, “but it is also important to note that the road up ahead is still going to be challenging, given that we are still in a global pandemic.”
Considering the economic situation and the instability caused by COVID-19, the economist said there is need for a “stimulus package”, as this would ease the “economic hardship” faced by vulnerable groups in society.