Composite photo shows Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Minister Raphael Trotman squaring off on Monday as the process for the passage of budget 2016 began. Teixiera demanded immediate answers to her questions, while Trotman, a former Speaker, argued that when the PPP was in office, the Opposition accepted that some answers could not be provided immediately, but could wait for the answers to be submitted at a later date (Samuel Maughn photos)
Composite photo shows Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Minister Raphael Trotman squaring off on Monday as the process for the passage of budget 2016 began. Teixiera demanded immediate answers to her questions, while Trotman, a former Speaker, argued that when the PPP was in office, the Opposition accepted that some answers could not be provided immediately, but could wait for the answers to be submitted at a later date (Samuel Maughn photos)

guyana chronicle February 15, 2016

THE National Assembly on Monday night approved the $4.8B current and capital expenditure for the Ministry of the Presidency (MoTP) when considerations of the estimates for Budget 2016 began. The total represents four billion, three hundred and ninety-eight million, nine hundred and ninety-two thousand dollars ($4,398,992,000) for total current expenditure; while the sum of four hundred and thirty-six million, nine hundred and forty-five thousand dollars ($436,945,000) represents the total for capital expenditure.

But the approval of the expenditure for the subject ministry was not without objection from the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP). The Opposition was quite interested in the number of contract employees attached to the Ministry, and this resulted in much drama between the two sides.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, was called upon by the Committee of Supply to state the four highest and lowest paid persons employed under the MoTP by Opposition Member and former Minister of Public Service Dr. Jennifer Westford.

It was then that Harmon disclosed that Guyana’s lead negotiator on Climate Change, Andrew Bishop, was the highest paid contract worker. He receives in excess of $1.35M per month. Following Bishop is Head of the E-Governance Project, Floyd Levi, who is paid $930,000; Chairman of the Civil Defence Commission, Chabulall Ramsarup, receives $830,000; while Janelle Christian, Head of the Climate Change Unit, receives a salary of $700,000.

The four persons who receive the lowest salaries from the MoTP earn the minimum wage. They were identified as three cleaners and a handyman.

Before providing the names of the four highest and lowest paid workers, Minister Harmon had requested to provide that information to the House in writing today, but Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira objected, stating: “I am sure Mr Harmon has it in front of him. I do not agree with giving him until tomorrow. I call on you to uphold what was demanded of the Opposition!”

But Chairman of the Committee of Supply, Dr. Barton Scotland, cautioned the Opposition parliamentarian about “pushing the envelope.” With there being an increase in the number of contracted employees from 162 last year to 288 this year, PPP’s Member of Parliament (MP) Juan Edghill asked the reason for the increase in contracted workers, and their dates of appointment and the process used for their engagement.

The Minister of State indicated that the increase by 126 persons represents an increase across the board of persons employed since May 2015. He explained that several Ministries and departments that were independent are now part of the MoTP.

“What we have seen is basically a coming together of ministries and departments; therefore, those hiring were conducted,” Harmon said, noting that the “persons were employed based on a need and a vacancy that existed when we took office.”

The Minister, in response to the process used for recruiting the contract workers, said most of the persons were identified for the available posts based on the urgent needs at the time; some of the vacancies were advertised.

“Persons were identified. They were interviewed; some of them were advertised and some were identified based on a need that was identified and was urgent. They were interviewed by a panel,” he said.

Edghill then demanded that proof of the advertisements be circulated for verification, and Harmon committed to providing all information requested this morning. But even as Harmon committed to providing the requested information to the Opposition MPs, Teixeira requested that the Chairman of the Committee of Supply, Dr. Scotland, defer the vote on the expenditure for a section of the MoTP until the information is provided.

She argued that her request was a reasonable one and was allowed in the past; however, Minister of Natural Resources, former Speaker Raphael Trotman, objected to the request and argument proffered by Teixeira, noting that when he was Speaker the majority of the answers to questions were not provided.
“We never held up the business of Government,” Trotman said, but Teixeira pleaded that the Opposition was not attempting to disrupt the affairs of the House.

The $2.6 billion expenditure for the Policy Development and Administration Section under the MoTP was protected by Minister Harmon, who said the explanations provided to the House would not affect the figures budgeted. Harmon said his information is explanatory and does not affect the figures in the budget. “I have said I will provide the information, and you can hold me to that; we are not hiding anything,” he declared.

Dr. Scotland ruled in favour of Harmon.

SOCU
Meanwhile, there was great upheaval in the House by Opposition MPs as they strongly objected to the presence of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) under the Defence and National Security section of the MoTP. SOCU is a subdivision of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), and as such, ought to appear under the Ministry of Public Security’s expenditure. However, Harmon said SOCU is currently going through a transition phase.

“SOCU is being transitioned out. We are now moving; it is going to where it belongs,” he said in response to Teixeira’s assertions that the Unit “has no place under the Ministry of the Presidency.”

Teixeira was overly vocal, and made known her party’s objection to SOCU being listed under the expenditure for the MoTP. She noted that Government must provide a proper explanation as to why SOCU has been placed there. She noted that the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act 2015 makes provision for SOCU, and questioned whether Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) provides support to SOCU.

$40M have been budgeted under line item “Other” for the Unit. SOCU was established to investigate money laundering and the financing of terrorism crimes.

No more contract workers
Even as the PPP grilled the Government side of the House on the number of contract workers currently employed, Government has committed to scrapping the employment of such workers.

Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix, in defence of his Department, which falls under the MoTP, said: “This policy is coming to zero.” But when pressed by the Opposition to state when, all Felix stated was “We will decide that. You can’t force it out of us!”

Komal Chand, an Opposition back-bencher, questioned Felix on the issue as he stood to defend his Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services. One hundred and thirty million, five hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars ($130,523,000) have been budgeted for contract employees in his department, which will cater to 116 contract workers as opposed to 60 last year.

The Minister said his Government inherited from the PPP the system of contracting workers, and continued using that system, but assured: “It will be phased out.”

Meanwhile, the Minister disclosed that more than 300,000 local birth certificates with special security features have been ordered. He noted that the demand for the documents is great. Approximately $32M have been expended on the birth certificates, the Minister said.

Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Frank Anthony questioned the need for that number of birth certificates when statistics show that there are approximately 15,000 births here annually. “The Honourable member should not confuse births with the demand for birth certificates,” Felix said in response to Dr. Anthony’s query.