There was tension in the National Assembly on Monday as the perusal of the budget estimates got underway. When the estimates for the Office of the Prime Minister were examined, it became apparent that $65 million could not be accounted for.
Opposition Parliamentarian Irfaan Ali, zeroing in on the revised estimates for 2018 for the Prime Minister’s Office, noted that it was indicated that the $65 million had been spent. When interrogated, however, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo denied this.
“It would have meant that the money had to be released to the agency. And the honourable Prime Minister has to direct us (to where it was spent),” Ali stressed to the House. He was supported by his colleagues, including Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira.
Ali noted that the sums which were saved from the stalled Constitutional Reform Process were actually wired to another programme. According to Nagamootoo, however, the sums are intact.
“They would have done their adjustments and balancing of the figures. You would have a true reflection of the revised figure. The $65 million is within this figure of $107 million; it has not been expended,” Nagamootoo said.
“This is up to December. The $65 million is reflected in the $107 million, and it cannot be considered as spent. If it is not spent at the end of the year — and we have no reason to spend it — it will be returned.”
Commissioner of Information
The announcement that, as of March 8, 2018, former Attorney General Charles Ramson is no longer Commissioner of Information also caused some consternation in the House. This was revealed when Nagamootoo was questioned about monies not being allocated for that constitutional office.
Earlier, Minister of State Joseph Harmon had been asked about the absence of allocations, and had referred the matter to the Prime Minister. It was thus the first question confronting Nagamootoo from the Opposition.
In his response, Nagamootoo said that while Ramson is no longer there, his office is examining ways of resuscitating the post. He noted that the process to replace Ramson as Commissioner has been held up by the litigation that was filed. This caused concern for the Opposition, as they noted the importance of the office.
It was only last year that Ramson Sr, had filed legal action against Nagamootoo and Attorney General Basil Williams. Among Ramson’s contentions was that his salary for the previous month had been withheld.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister also provided a breakdown for the money that was allocated to his office. Under line item 6284, ‘other’, a total of $80 million was budgeted. According to Nagamootoo, that money was used to purchase cell phones, internet-related activities, and for work study students.
“Under that head, some of the items will be school tours organised to cover 50 schools at the cost of $3 million. Repairs to furniture and sofas, Website hosting and maintenance: $2 million. E Networks for $250,000; purchase of power strips: $40,000. Purchase of cell phones: $400,000. Stipend for work study students: $250,000; Prime Minister’s outreach programme: $5 million.
“(for) Constitutional reform, an allocation of $38 million has been set aside. That will depend on whether the commission will be formed under the law that is now being reviewed by the Standing Committee,” Nagamootoo explained.