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Amid growing concerns over the proposed Natural Resources Fund (NRF) Bill 2021, the Guyana Trades’ Union Congress together with Article 13 and the Transparency Institute of Guyana, is calling on President Irfaan Ali and his Government to delay the parliamentary vote on the Bill.
The Bill is expected to be read for a second time and debated when the National Assembly meets on Wednesday, December 29, before it is put to the vote, but the political watchdogs said eight days are just not enough to consider such a critical legislation.
“We consider it entirely unreasonable, even in the best of circumstances, for the people of Guyana and their parliamentary representatives to have just eight working days to consider the text and implications of undoubtedly the most significant piece of legislation of the PPP/C Administration,” the organisations said in a joint statement.
GTUC, Article 13 and TI said while the proposed legislation promises to “establish a natural resource fund to manage the natural resource wealth of Guyana for the present and future benefit of the people and for the sustainable development of the economy,” it simply cannot be taken at face value.
The political watchdogs said while they have not had sufficient time to consider the full text of the Bill, they have taken note of the dismantling of the oversight mechanisms contained in the Natural Resource Fund Act, which was passed under the APNU+AFC Government.
“This Bill places the moneys in the Fund in the hands of a Board of Directors appointed by the President and that the Board reports to the Minister of Finance; that a Public Accountability and Oversight Committee comprising of nine persons providing vaguely for “non-governmental oversight of the Fund” is the body charged with reporting to the National Assembly; and that the Fund will be operationally managed by the Bank of Guyana, whose Governor is also appointed by the President,” the groups pointed out.
The added: “We also find contentious the provision in the First Schedule to the Bill allowing the Government to appropriate the first US$500 million in the Fund, 75% of the next US$500 million or US$375 million, 50% of the next US$500 million or US$250 million, and 25% of the next $500 million or US$125 million. In other words, of the first US$2 billion, the Government is permitting itself to take out $1,250 million, not including withdrawals for emergency financing. If the constant resort to the Contingency Fund is any guide, emergency financing will take up what is left after these set withdrawals.”
In light of these concerns, the political watchdogs are calling on the President to provide for extensive consultation on the propose legislation, in accordance with the Constitution, and the recent ruling of the CCJ.
They said Government should seek the advice and recommendations of a wide cross-section of the citizenry, and further, to have the Bill referred to a Select Committee of the National Assembly to which members of the public are permitted to make recommendations.