– monies to fund expanded work programmes, cost-of-living interventions
A marathon session in the National Assembly that went well into the night ended with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government getting parliamentary approval for well over $25 billion in supplementary funds.
The two financial papers in question – Financial Paper No 4 seeking approval for $1.8 billion and Financial Paper No 5 seeking approval for $24 billion – had been laid at the last sitting by Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh. They were eventually approved by the National Assembly on Tuesday after hours of being examined by the Committee of Supply.
These funds will go towards expanding the work programmes in various Ministries, agencies and regions. Specifically, money was sought for $1.2 billion for the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), which is presently on high alert amid threats to Guyana’s territory of Essequibo from neighbouring, Venezuela.
It was explained that the money is for “defence and security support”, while a sum of over $527 million was sought for development programmes in Regions One, Six, Seven, Eight and Nine. Monies were also sought for the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry.
Meanwhile, approval was sought for over $12.3 billion for the agriculture sector, which is earmarked for subsidising local organisations and providing the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) with additional resources to do drainage and irrigation works and combat the El Niño phenomenon.
Additionally, approval was sought for money spent on the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) in the form of $643 million to support operational costs, particularly paying sugar workers. At this point, however, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha was grilled by the parliamentary A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Opposition.
Not only was Mustapha forced to debunk claims that GuySuCo workers were not paid last month, but he also emphasised the importance of the Government’s investments in Rose Hall in particular and GuySuCo in general… one of the largest employers in the country, whose mass firings under the former Government had sent shockwaves across the sugar belt.
“We reopened Rose Hall Estate, (and) Rose Hall Estate is now producing sugar and we have employed a total of 543 new employees and we employed these people because of the mechanisation programme. We have started, and I must also say, those persons are also from the area of Rose Hall, who were severed when the factory was closed,” Minister Mustapha said.
Approval for funding was also sought for the health sector, which will benefit from $3.9 billion to support the rollout of healthcare infrastructure. This sum includes $3.3 billion for the construction of the New Amsterdam Regional Hospital, which the Ministry said would add “to the suite of several new hospitals as part of Government’s broader agenda to modernise the health care system.”
Another area being covered by the supplementary financing is the education sector, with over $530.6 million being sought for additional funding under the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) loan for the skills development and employability project.
Education Minister Priya Manickchand was also grilled on her sector by the Opposition, regarding the funding being sought for her Ministry. She explained to them that $31.7 million being sought for “school furniture and equipment” was going to go towards two schools in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) – Arthurville Primary School and Zeelugt Primary School.
However, Opposition Member of Parliament Natasha Singh-Lewis went on to ask the Minister how many Venezuelan children would benefit from these expenditures. In recent times there has been an influx of Venezuelan migrants in Guyana, particularly in Region Three where boatloads have landed and, in some instances, they were sent back home before they could land. The question prompted the Minister to make clear the Government’s non-discriminatory stance.
“As many children as are falling in the catchment of the Zeelugt Primary School, regardless of whether they are Guyanese, male, female, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Brazilian, or Venezuelan, they will get an education at that school. And a good quality, sound education,” a fired-up Manickchand said.
The Public Works Ministry was also catered for, with approval being sought for over $1 billion for the maintenance of roads, procurement of equipment and $79 million for the Transport and Harbours Department, as the country continues to undergo massive infrastructural transformation.
Funding was, meanwhile, sought for the Office of the Prime Minister, including more than $188 million to provide additional resources for the Linden Electricity Company Incorporated to sustain Ituni’s operation, the Mahdia Power and Light Inc and Kwakwani Utilities. Additionally, monies will go towards funding under the Government of India’s Line of Credit “due to an acceleration in the delivery of solar photovoltaic systems”. (G-3)