Government’s spokesperson, Joseph Harmon, on Friday defended a recent move by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government to secure more than $300 million in supplementary funding from the National Assembly for ministerial outreaches across the country.
At the last parliamentary sitting on May 23, 2019, Finance Minister Winston Jordan had presented Financial Paper 1 of 2019 totalling in excess of $7.9 billion. Of that amount, $800 million was approved for the Finance Ministry, part of which is for “increased activities such as ministerial outreaches”.
Asked during Friday’s post-Cabinet press briefing to justify the additional $350 million when supplementary funds are only sought in the case of urgency and/or emergency, Harmon underscored the importance of these ministerial engagements.
The Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency (MOTP) noted that Government first had these outreaches back 2016 and 2017, and it was based on feedback from the coomunities, so the Government found it necessary to continue the engagements with the public.
“It was recognised that there was a view that people needed to see their Government Ministers more. They wanted to be in touch with them. When we came into office, we recognised that there was sort of an expectation created by the previous Administration that only if you see a Minister that you can get things done.”
According to Harmon, the coalition has since changed that paradigm and has undertaken to move Government services to the people. This, he added, was done with the creation of new towns.
“We’ve actually taken Government services to these new towns themselves. So the outreaches by the Ministers was an approach to listen to persons and hear what they have to say and whether in fact, what we’re doing is working and if in fact, they need to give us addition advice. So these were some of the rationale behind the outreaches,” he contended.
The MOTP Director General went on to say that his Government believes in inclusive governance and these public engagements are reflective of this.
“We believe that the people who govern, must listen to the people they govern. This is a way of interacting with them to bring them as part of the decision-making process. What, in fact, we are doing is giving effect to Article 13 of the Constitution and basically changing the paradigm in which Government is in the centre and the people are on the periphery. We are now taking the Government to the people and therefore they can now feel comfortable that decisions are made in their interest right there on the ground in the community they’re living in,” Harmon stressed.
Already, Government has held ministerial outreaches in Regions One (Barima_Waini), Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), Four (Demerara Mahaica), Six (East Berbice-Corentyne), Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) and 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice). These outreaches comes amid criticisms that the APNU/AFC coalition is blatantly using taxpayers’ money and State resources to campaign heavily across the country.
However, the Government has been insisting that the outreaches are to better engage and address concerns of citizen, and not part of any campaigning ahead of the upcoming General and Regional Elections.
Despite this, however, one Government Minister during a hinterland outreach asking residents to vote for the coalition Government.
Citizenship Minister Winston Felix, while addressing a small gathering at Tiger Pond village, located in the Karasabai District, South Pakaraimas, Region Nine, made it clear that he was there simply to garner votes.
“You understand why it is important for us to come and convince you that you should vote for this coalition,” Minister Felix remarked.
He added: “If I wanted to go to church, I’d go to church in Georgetown. I wouldn’t come here for Sunday school. While I wouldn’t mind worshipping with you, but I come here to ask for your vote, let’s understand that clearly. Vote coalition!”