– Opposition, Govt clash over NICIL/SPU, Public Security Ministry allocations
After a week of crutiny from the parliamentary Opposition, the National Assembly on Friday approved the $300.7 billion Budget estimates. But the final day saw some fireworks as the Finance and Public Security Ministries were scrutinised.
In the case of the Finance Ministry, the parliamentary Opposition was especially concerned about the finances of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited’s (NICIL) Special Purpose Unit (SPU).
“When we established the SPU, which is a temporary arrangement until they finalise the sale of the assets no longer under the purview of [Guyana Sugar Corporation] GuySuCo. And so technically to separate the activities of the general NICIL from the arrangement, we decided to fund that out of the Treasury,” Finance Minister Winston Jordan explained.
“NICIL would not have been in a position, out of its cash flow, to fund the activities of the SPU. Taking into consideration some of the recommendations from the inquiry into NICIL, most of the funding that went there are now paid directly into the Treasury. So they do not command the kind of resources they commanded prior to 2015.”
Queries from Opposition parliamentarian Juan Edghill revealed that Government has yet to begin repaying the interest on the $30 billion syndicated bond it borrowed for GuySuCo, much less the principle.
However, the Finance Minister indicated that they have a deadline of May 2019 to begin repaying the bond. In light of this, the Minister insisted that they were not in default.
“The bond total is $30 billion, but it has two tranches; $16 and $14 billion repsectively. Only the $16 billion has been drawn down. The interest on the bond is premised on the sale of the assets of GuySuCo.”
“So it is my understanding that by (May) of next year, they should be in a position to start making some sales. They are supposed to have some land sales going. Already there has been tremendous interest for land based on tenders, but Cabinet is considering the mechanism that will trigger these sales,” he said.
The Public Security Ministry was also examined. Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan was quizzed on various allocations and what the Administration is doing to ensure the prisons are kept secure.
Asked point blank by his predecessor, Clement Rohee, whether he was satisfied with the current strength of systems in the prisons, Ramjattan made it clear he was not. Rohee asked what he was doing about it, in light of his dissatisfaction.
Elaborating on his candid “No”, Ramjattan said Government has been restructuring the prison system, trying to incentivising ranks and trying to recruit officers who are up to the task of managing prisoners.
Furthered questioned by MP Harry Gill, the Minister noted that they are procuring surveillance equipment and have also been getting better acquainted with the guards, all to cut down on smuggling. Ramjattan stressed, however, that families of prisoners must desist from bribing officers. He called for a change of the bribing culture in Guyana.
Giving some insight into the new designs that will replace the razed Georgetown prisons, Ramjattan said the steel cells which will be built will be portable. Hence, he noted that if need be, these cells can be transported to different locations.
Justifying the portable steel cell model, Ramjattan said at present they do not have an appropriately large location to construct a new prison that can be close enough to transport remand prisons to court in Georgetown. In the interim, however, he said the experts are in discussion with them for a suitable location for such a prison in Demerara.
Budget 2019, themed ‘Transforming the Economy, Empowering People, Building Sustainable Communities for Good Life’ is the Administration’s fifth since coming to office in 2015. It is also the largest.