Transparency, accountability watchwords for Finance Ministry

GINA, GUYANA, Wednesday, December 19, 2016

The move to have greater autonomy for sub-agencies of the Ministry of Finance was highlighted by Minister of Finance Winston Jordan.

Addressing the media at the Ministry’s end-of-year press conference today, Minister Jordan stated that when it comes to transparency and accountability, Government, “walks the walk”.

The Ministry’s several sub-agencies have held their own press conferences.

Minister Jordan added that this move indicates “the level of autonomy that we are allowing these agencies to have in their day to day management.”

The Minister is only responsible for policy, he stated and that these agencies are responsible for executing the policies. He added that he is a “hands off persons” hence all sub-agencies must do their work, and whilst all will be held accountable for their output, it cannot be said that he or Government interfered.

The Finance Minister also spoke of the moves to ensure that National Budgets are passed earlier to guarantee that the full financial year is utilised. He attributed this to the quality of staff within the Ministry. “We have developed, over time, their management capability and also the all-round leadership and direction of the Ministry.”

With regards to the 2015 Budget which some described as “truncated”, the Minister said that it served not only the five months following its presentation, but the entire year. He explained, “All that was used up between January and August of the last year (2015) was also included in the Appropriation Bill for 2015”. He further explained that whilst the Constitution requires that a full budget be done, it was done late.

Taking this a step further, Minister Jordan said that the Budget, for 2017, was read before the start of the financial year and this “will clear the way for us to start January 1”. He added, “We won’t have the lumpy spending that we’ve had in the past when Budgets came out late and then we had a mad rush to spend money in the last two months. Such a rush by the way that there were times when the books supposedly closed on December 31, were repeatedly in January of the next year out of votes for previous years. This might have been hidden but now it’s out in the open.”

The Minister is optimistic that the earlier Budget’s passage will boost the Private Sector Investment Programme. “I hope we can get a full year of implementation of our Public Sector Investment Programme which had suffered this year, and did not take the benefit of an early Budget. There are going to be system changes, all around, even personnel changes. There are going to planning units in the big agencies and better inter-agency cooperation that would better facilitate execution.”

He spoke of some of the challenges facing the Tender Board, in terms of perception, adding that Government is now trying to bring back some respectability to that Board. “Everything is being done in the open.”

The Public Procurement Commission and the Bid Protest Committee, he said will boost these efforts as will the planned De-barring Committee. The latter, Minister Jordan said will target poorly performing contractors. “It is provided for in the Act. It is meant to de-bar firms and individuals who have been non-compliant or have ran afoul of the Procurement Act.”

The Inter-American Development Bank is also assisting with training to prepare procurement plans, developing a website and information system so that the public understands what is being done, the Minister said.

The production and laying of the Half Year Report before the National Assembly, before it went into recess, was described as a first by the Finance Minister. He said this was a signal achievement and allows persons to understand the developments for half of the  fiscal year and “is important for businesses and so that have to do their planning”. It makes no sense, he said, to make the report available in October unless it is for history books or University of Guyana research purposes.

Another first was the production of the Public Debt Report. This, the Finance Minister said, was a record of what obtained for the previous five years. Given Government’s promise of increased transparency, he opined that this was information that should be in the public at all times. He also recalled that just prior to the Report’s release, some persons were, “playing fast and loose” with purported debt figures. He dismissed a report alleged made in Trinidadian publication which stated that the nation’s external debt was $US6B. The Minister said that he was unsure if they made in a mistake and quoted Guyana dollars. No Caribbean country has debt of that amount. He stated that Guyana’s debt was $US1.6 B of overall debt, $1.2 External and $US400M otherwise debt, “that would have been in the report at mid-year.”

Internally, the Minister recalled that the first ‘Health and Financial Week was implemented in June’. This activity saw experts addressing men and women’s health issues, and financial planning. The Ministry also constructed its first on-site gym, he added. “I think it is very important for staff to remain healthy in a very stressful environment.”

Minister Jordan reflected on the Finance Ministry’s partnership with international agencies. Guyana has received a very good report under Article 4 Consultations, the Minister revealed. He noted that several areas were flagged, among them, the rate of growth and expenditure in certain areas. He observed that current expenditure was growing faster than capital expenditure.

“We are looking at that and hoping to correct that in 2017,” he said. A similar consultation is due to occur in February next year and the Minister said that he is hopeful that similar kudos could be had for the Government’s efforts to manage the economy, exchange rates, inflation and deficit. He emphasised that these issues can only be managed with a concerted effort despite them often being taken for granted. “We are the guiders of it, but we also have to keep our hands on the pulse.”

 

By: Paul McAdam

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