Govt to prepare emergency budget in 21 days – VP Jagdeo
– says Finance Minister to be named shortly
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has announced that a national emergency budget is likely to be presented in three weeks with a significant focus on expenditure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Guyana.
This was revealed by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo during a press conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) on Friday.
He explained that the normal budget cycle is 179 days from the day the circular goes out to the various agencies to the date of presentation in Parliament.
“But we have made it clear that we want the budget prepared and we’re working towards preparing a budget in three weeks – 21 days. So the 179 days in the normal cycle will have to come down to about three weeks,” Jagdeo stated.
He pointed out that the country and the help that persons and the various sectors need to reboot the economy cannot be made available to them unless there is an emergency budget to provide the funds.
“So we will have to work overtime to get the budget ready,” he asserted.
The Vice President further posited that the circular went out earlier this week, which means that the budget could be ready early next month.
According to Jagdeo, while the budget will include funding for critical areas to keep the country afloat, funds to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic is a top priority.
In fact, he disclosed that frontline workers, especially those in the medical field, can look forward to being adequately rewarded.
“We found that a lot of the people on the frontline – the sad stories from the doctors and the nurses who are dealing with the pandemic and they’re on the frontline, they feel that they are not adequately equipped with PPEs nor are they rewarded for this. I want to assure them that the President [Dr Irfaan Ali] has indicated that in the next budget there will be an appropriate recognition of their work. That will be done in the next budget,” he noted.
Moreover, Jagdeo ensured that the $4.5 billion promised to citizens by President Ali in his inauguration speech as part of direct assistance to communities will be disbursed in a “transparent and rapid manner”.
“Right now we are looking at how the money could be disbursed in a transparent way and how it could reach the people who actually need the help,” the Vice President said.
He added: “There are large numbers of people out there who need assistance from the Government of Guyana, through either help for food to feed their families or some cash assistance.”
Jagdeo posited that the major issue before Government now is whether it could use money from the treasury, or it would have to raise the sum in the interim before there is a budget, through borrowing, and once the budget is passed to repay that loan.
He expressed that the previous Administration did not offer anything of substance as direct assistance to families, but rather chose to spend millions of US dollars on the Ocean View hospital project which is marred in controversy and still cannot be utilised at the moment.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo expressed that when the new Government assumed political office, it found “shocking details” of the previous Administration’s mismanagement in relation to the country’s response to the pandemic.
“Frankly speaking it was shocking about the state of disorganisation and the lack of a clear strategy to address an existential issue for Guyana.”
“There was no appropriate structure apart from the procurement and material deficit, there wasn’t the appropriate structure to address the pandemic,” Jagdeo detailed.
He said that efforts are being made to engage the international community to acquire the needed resources.
The Vice President explained that the Prime Minister and Minister of Health are working along with the international organisations and are putting in place a technical structure to deal with both the medial response as well as the socio-economic response.
“So, the efforts at the Ministry has been enormous in terms of getting more materials. More capability to test as well as the testing kits,” Jagdeo added.
However, as the new Administration works on preparing the emergency budget, they are encountering some challenges, Jagdeo noted.
“As you know, we are changing the nomenclature of the Ministries back to the old structures. So that means that whilst we are preparing the budget, we have to also change the IFMIS (Integrated Financial Management Systems) to revert to the old structure of Ministries so that you can have a smooth disbursement of resources etc,” he stated.
Nevertheless, Vice President Jagdeo further disclosed that the Arthur Chung Conference Centre is being considered for the hosting of Parliamentary sessions to facilitate the passage of the budget. This, he said, will facilitate social distancing requirements.
Jagdeo, who is the General Secretary of the PPP, was appointed Vice President by Ali immediately after his August 2 swearing-in. He told reporters on Friday that he is currently assisting the President with the areas he has oversight over, that is, the oil and gas sector as well as finance.
Earlier this week, Government announced that the Office of the President will have oversight of the Finance Ministry and Natural Resources.
But Jagdeo told reporters that the oil and gas sector will be transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources, headed by Vickram Bharrat and a new Finance Minister will be appointed.
“I did not want [a] line portfolio directly. That is why we have a Minister of Natural Resources and we will have a Minister of Finance… So when the Gazette comes out [with my portfolio] it would say assist the President or something like that,” Jagdeo, who himself is a former two-term President, posited.