APNU+AFC left loopholes to withdraw oil money without parliament’s approval – Finance Minister

Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for finance, Dr. Ashni Singh revealed Thursday that the previous administration had left a Natural Resource Fund Act 2019 in place so deficient, that withdrawals could have been made without parliamentary approval.

He was speaking, during the parliamentary scrutiny of budget estimates for the Ministry of Finance.

“Critical among the provisions that needed to be addressed, was the fact that under the 2019 legislation, a number of loopholes were left through which expenditure could be met from the fund, bypassing the parliamentary process and without appropriation.”

Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh

An example of this is the fact that the NRF Act 2019 allowed the Auditor General to hire an external firm to conduct audits for the Fund, and recover the cost of the audit from the Fund itself. In NRF Act 2021, any such payments must go through Parliament.

Dr. Singh said the Natural Resource Fund Act 2021 has closed the loopholes.

“The new NRF Act of 2021 … establishes a mechanism whereby transfers from the NRF Act come into the consolidated fund in their entirety and are appropriated through the budgetary process. And so, sir, we would have spent the entirety of the last four days interrogating the budget that would have provided allocations for a variety of initiatives, national development priorities and projects which would have benefitted from scrutiny by this National Assembly,” Dr. Singh said.

The first of such withdrawals was approved by the House on Thursday, clearing the way for $126 billion to be deposited into the consolidated fund for Budget 2022.

Adjacent to this matter is that Dr. Singh had to explain multiples times to opposition members of parliament (MP), how the movement of Guyana’s oil money would work upon its withdrawal from the fund.

Opposition MPs, Dr. Karen Cummings and Juretha Fernandes asked questions about which national development priorities the funds were earmarked for.

Dr. Singh said, “Withdrawals from the NRF are deposited into the consolidated fund. National development priorities are determined through the budgetary process of which the appropriation process is an integral part.”

Emphasising the focus of the new Act on transparency and accountability, Dr. Singh noted that all spending is subject to scrutiny, which the monies to be withdrawn from the NRF will be part of.

He said, “the national budget is then subject to scrutiny during the course of its implementation and execution, and it is then subject to exposed auditing, sir, including and of course, scrutiny by the public accounts committee process, sir.”

The minister added that the government is fully committed to transparency in the management of Guyana’s wealth.