House clears $5.1B for Foreign Affairs Ministry
-$368M to pay ambassadors, others queried
THE National Assembly, at the level of the Committee of Supply, on Tuesday approved $5.1B to propel the work of the Foreign Affairs Ministry but not before the Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge was grilled on the $368.4M budgeted for contracted employees under the Foreign Policy Promotion Programme.
The Opposition’s Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira had told the committee through the chair, Dr. Barton Scotland that the sum budgeted for contract employees under the Foreign Policy Promotion Programme for 2017, represented an almost $200M increase when compared to 2016. In 2016, $123.8M was initially budgeted for contract employees under this programme but the sum was subsequently revised to $157.2M.
In response to the concerns raised by Teixeira, the Foreign Affairs Minister explained that the increases are largely due to the appointment of new Principal Foreign Officers and Ambassadors in London, Ottawa, Havana, New York, Caracas and Brussels and Nickerie. These appointments, Minister Greenidge noted, are usually for a period ranging from one to three years.
Additionally, the $368.4M also includes their medical, gratuity, security and vacation allowances among other benefits.
Not entirely satisfied with the responses offered by the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Opposition Chief Whip then asked for the Minister to release a list of all the posts filled with Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and Charge d’affaires and deputies, in addition to Consul Generals, together with their emoluments and benefits. Minister Greenidge has since committed to providing the information but noted that the emoluments vary based on the posting.
“Of course, the allowances and salaries vary according to positions, because the new position in Geneva is a lot more costly posting than say Barbados or Ottawa,” he posited.
At this point Teixeira used the opportunity to solicit details about Guyana’s Ambassador-designate to Kuwait, Dr. Shamir Ally. Ally was placed under investigation following reports about a fraud case he was involved in the United States back in 2003. In September, it was discovered that a civil case was filed against Dr. Ally along with Ronald Lanchoney and Robert Mancuso by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The trio was allegedly involved in the distribution of false financial information by Acrodyne Communications Inc. In 1998, 1999 and 2000 and according to court documents Mancuso, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company, Dr. Ally, the company’s former controller and Lanchoney were aware of many problems associated with the company’s accounting controls, but failed to assure that its financial transactions were accurately recorded.
Taking the situation into account, the Opposition front bencher queried whether Dr. Ally was being paid even as the investigation is ongoing. “Strictly speaking, the Ambassador-designate, is still the Ambassador-designate. He hasn’t yet been formally paid in that post but the exercise of looking into the allegation has been completed,” Minister Greenidge told the Committee in response. However, he noted that the Dr. Ally has not yet been accredited but that process is expected to be completed soon.
Responding to another question raised by the Opposition Chief Whip, the Foreign Affairs Minister informed the Committee that Guyana’s High Commissioner to India, Dr. David Pollard is still in active duty, putting to rest claims that the High Commissioner had demitted office.
Turning her attention to Line Item 6241, Teixeira noted that the amount allotted for 2017 has increased when compared to 2016. In 2016, the Ministry had initially budged $684.6M for the rental of buildings; however, the figure was revised to $696.7M. In 2017, a sum of $921.5M has been allocated under the Line Item.
In putting Teixeira’s concerns to rest, Minister Greenidge explained that the figure in 2016 was lower than 2017 because many of the ambassadors did not take up their positions until June, 2016, hence the sum represents half year expenditure.
Additionally, he said the figures represent the fact that there are two new missions in Geneva and Port of Spain. It was noted too, that accommodation is put in place before the Ambassador takes up his or her post in a particular designation.
“The Policy of the Ministry is not one which allows the Ambassador to arrive and then rent a building. There is control from Head Office and in addition to that oversight from Head Office, Head Office may require, say for example in Brussels, an experienced officer is assigned to survey the scene as it were and identify a set of appropriate buildings after consultation with Head Office as to specs and then they would review the rent and then agree on what is most appropriate for the Ambassador,” Minister Greenidge explained. He noted too that rental of buildings vary across the world hence there is no fixed cost.
In making his justification, the Foreign Affairs Minister made it clear that the European Union (EU) is a very important partner to Guyana given that it is the country’s most important source of concessional financing. “The Embassy in Brussels gives us the opportunity to interface not only with the European Union but also with the ACP Member States with whom we jointly negotiate,” he posited.
He said in the case of Geneva, though it is a very expensive post, the Swiss Government following discussions last year with the Government of Guyana, had agreed to bear a significant part of the cost of funding the office and also assistance with the residence. Additionally, he said this paves the way for Guyana to have greater engagement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).