THE Natural Resources Fund (NRF) Bill which was presented in the National Assembly by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) and passed on Wednesday evening, corrected the deficiencies of the NRF Act promulgated by the A Partnership For National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) administration.
Not only did the Bill correct those deficiencies, but it also added extra layers of security to ensure proper spending of money from the fund and added mechanisms of oversight to ensure transparency and accountability, Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, said during a press conference on Thursday.
“The Natural Resource Bill brought to the National Assembly by the People’s Progressive Party represents a Bill that is vastly superior to the Natural Resource Fund Act that the APNU+AFC unlawfully enacted in 2019,” Dr. Singh said.
During the press conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Dr Singh reminded the media that the initial NRF Act was passed in the National Assembly in 2019 by the then APNU+AFC administration after they were toppled by a motion of no-confidence tabled by the then PPP/C Opposition in December, 2018.
“Given that that sitting took place after the passage of the no-confidence motion, that Bill suffered the fatal defect of what I would describe as constitutional illegitimacy by the fact that it was considered by a National Assembly that should have been dissolved by that time,” Dr. Singh said.
The Finance Minister reminded that the PPP/C condemned the APNU+AFC’s NRF Act and shared grave concerns not only because of how the Act was passed, but also in relation to the contents of the Act, and had committed to amending the Act once elected to office.
The concerns identified by the PPP/C included the excessive powers enjoyed by the Finance Minister; that there was no governing body for the fund; the complicated formula that governed transfers from the fund and the provisions which allow withdrawals from the fund without parliamentary approval.
The PPP/C Bill dramatically reduced the powers of the minister; added a board of directors; made it compulsory for parliament to approve spending; added a provision that every receipt must be published in the Official Gazette and be reported to the National Assembly, among other measures to add extra layers of security.
“There’s a lot of talk of the Santiago Principles. I would like to say unequivocally that the APNU+AFC Act was not in conformity with the Santiago Principles. To begin with, it did not have a governing body … the Santiago Principles clearly speak of a governing body,” Dr Singh said.
He added: “They know that our provisions strengthen the framework, but their objections to the passage of the NRF Act are grounded in one single motivation. They do not want the fund to be deployed for the purposes of national development.”
Dr Singh related that the objections raised by the APNU+AFC are similar to those which they raised in relation to the Amaila Falls Hydro Project, as they want, for political reasons, to deny the people of Guyana benefits flowing from the operationalisation of the Natural Resources Fund.
“Its most unfortunate that it is yet another example of the APNU+AFC [being] willing to take all manner of actions to actually frustrate and undermine the national good and the advancement of positive national objectives, it’s perhaps typical APNU+AFC behaviour,” he said.