WITH multiple major agencies falling under the Office of the President for budget purposes, the Committee of Supply of the National Assembly approved $7.3 Billion on Monday for its operations as part of Appropriation Bill No. 1 of 2022.
The Bill, otherwise referred to as Budget 2022, made its way to the Committee of Supply for consideration of the estimates and expenditure of the various agencies, following five intense days of policy debates last week on the $552 Billion budgeted allocation for the year.
In the Committee of Supply, chaired by Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir, members of the political opposition scrutinized the estimates which will later be passed by the National Assembly, and assented to by President Dr Irfaan Ali, thus becoming law.
Responding to questions on the allocations in the Committee was Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira.
A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) parliamentarian, Ganesh Mahipaul, questioned the $245 million allocated under project title “Minor works”.
He said that he was aware that it was a budget line which the President may use his discretion to utilise and asked for an identification of how the money would be spent.
Minister Teixiera confirmed that the budget line allows for the President, as was done with former Presidents David Granger, Donald Ramotar, and Bharrat Jagdeo, to utilise the money for humanitarian activities, supporting communities with laptops, scientific laboratories, and playgrounds, and other special help to members of the public in special circumstances.
With that, she said it was difficult to determine how the money would be spent since the number of persons requiring assistance could be 100 in one year, but 1000 in another.
To this, Mr Mahipaul quipped: “I trust there will be some generosity there in considering giving the office of the leader of the opposition some more money,” causing an eruption of laughter in the Committee.
Youth Advisory Council
$16 million had been budgeted for the establishment of a Youth Advisory Council, which will work closely with the President.
APNU+AFC MP, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, plugged the need for the body to present its work programme for the year to show how it will carry out its mandate.
Minister Teixeira responded that President Ali will launch the council before the end of March, noting that a Secretariat has been established with a Technical Coordinator and a Committee.
That body has, according to the Governance minister, already completed the Terms of Reference for the advisory council.
The minister extended an olive branch to the youth arms of the various political parties in Guyana to participate in the formation of the advisory council on youth. Once the body has been properly established, she added that a work plan will be developed.
National Security enhanced
MP Mahipaul had raised alarm about the $35.9 million allocated for telephone and internet charges, which he said increased from approximately $800,000 in previous years.
Minister Teixeira responded that such increases the capacity in telecommunications for the National Security and Defence Secretariat of the Office of the President.
She added that with an extension planned to the building that houses that body, the internet connectivity and phone access of the body must also expand.
Unconvinced by the explanation, MP Mahipaul questioned again where the money will go, to which Minister Teixeira defended the allocation, noting that it caters for territorial defence as well as intelligence gathering.
“Therefore, telecommunications, internet, telephone, and other forms of communication are critical,” Minister Teixeira stressed, adding that the laws of Guyana allow for the interception of telephones for crime-fighting purposes.
“If any security entities wished to tap or intercept, they have to go to the court for the court to give permission,” the minister explained as she challenged Mahipaul’s question of whether the resources would be used to spy on the population.
Turning attention to the capital expenditure under Office of the President relating to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), APNU+AFC MP Annette Ferguson asked for an explanation of the allocated $100 million.
Minister Teixeira said $74.1 million of that money will be spent on digital environmental monitoring, and reporting and verification of the framework for offshore, petroleum, mining, and forestry activities.
She noted further that there will be two main areas: Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote monitoring sensors, instruments and dashboards. She said this capacity building of the EPA will not be limited to oil and gas, as other extractive non-oil industries will be monitored using the technology.
The remaining balance of the $100 million allocation, Minister Teixeira continued, is earmarked for scientific and lab equipment needed by the EPA, as well as furniture, printers and other materials.
Other entities included under the Office of the President are the Police Complaints Authority, the President’s Office and official residence, National Parks Commission, Wildlife Management Authority, and the Protected Areas Commission.