Berbice Bridge, CLICO investments were “criminal” – Finance Minister
– NIS lost US$9M as a result; Consolidated Fund may have to rescue scheme from drowning in losses
By Kiana Wilburg
The business of the National Assembly was wrapped up yesterday afternoon, with Finance Minister Winston Jordan reading the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill for the second time and it was passed.
But since he was on the issue of tax, Jordan felt it necessary to speak about the state of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), with particular reference to the investments made by the company into CLICO and the Berbice River Bridge during the rule of the People’s Progressive Party Civic.
The Finance Minister said that the billion-dollar investments into those two entities have “hurt us all”. He described them as being rather “reckless” investments, but said that it is even beyond this. His colleagues on the eastern side of the House suggested to him, a more fitting term. They told him, “It’s not reckless, it’s criminal.”
To this Jordan retorted, “Yes I like that word, criminal. It was indeed criminal.”
The Finance Minister said that when Guyanese make their contributions to NIS, it is expected that during times of difficulty and old age, that money would be there to assist. He said that it is expected that NIS would be prudent with its investments, especially with taxpayers’ resources which are faithfully contributed every month.
“So Mr. Speaker, all of us were hurt at the reckless investment by NIS into CLICO resulting in the impairment of over $5.6B. Between 2009 to now, NIS has lost $1.8B and if this was not criminal enough, NIS again made another suspect investment into the Berbice Bridge of nearly $1B to which they are still to collect income on,” Jordan said.
He added, “So essentially, NIS is now in the position where it is eating into its capital to make even the minimal benefits to its contributors. This cannot continue…We will have to move swiftly and come up with a strategy, and it won’t be easy. That approach includes entrenching in NIS, mechanisms to ensure it can never again do anything as reckless as this. ”
Members on the Government’s side slammed their desks in approval.
The Finance Minister continued, “We don’t want the scenario that when we are ready for our benefits we can’t get it, and actually that is the situation now because it continues to lose. It can’t give full benefits and I believe that the Consolidated Fund at the end of the day may be asked to make good on this loss”.
But Jordan’s statements apparently incensed Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo. Jagdeo could not resist the temptation of taking the floor to defend the investments made into the two companies under the PPP.
He accused the Finance Minister of using the time allotted to read a Bill to score political points. The Opposition Leader then attacked the contents of the 2015 budget which was passed on Friday last, and even sought to bring the integrity of the Finance Minister into question with various accusations.
Jagdeo then called for a debate on the matter after what seemed to be his budget debate presentation—Part two. But Jordan refused to respond to Jagdeo and his allegations.
“I said what I had to, but I did enjoy the honourable opposition leader,” the Finance Minister uttered while ending his statement with a hearty laugh.
Jordan told Kaieteur News that he has no time to enter into any debate with the Opposition Leader. He emphasized that Jagdeo cannot escape the fact that the investments were criminal and that NIS suffered as a result of it.
“I have no desire to give Jagdeo any more prominence than he gets in this honourable House,” Jordan concluded.
As for the Income Tax Bill which seeks to remove the tax levied directly on personal income, the Minister said that this is part of the quest by the coalition government to give a good life to the Guyanese people by “putting back money in their pockets so to speak.”
In explaining how this measure will work, Jordan said, “Let us assume that a person is working for $60,000 at the moment. They will be given a take home of $50,000 a month which leaves chargeable income of $10,000 a month. Now they are asked to pay 30 percent of that chargeable income which is $3000 plus, they will also be asked to pay $3360 a month in NIS contributions. So in essence their take-home pay will be $53,640. When this Bill is passed and the measure goes into effect, the chargeable income of $10,000 will have the NIS contribution deducted and that will leave $6640 and 30 percent of that is $1192, giving this person a take home pay of $54,648.
He said that this means that this person will have a saving or will have extra money in his pocket of $1008 a month or $12,096 a year. This earned him loud applause from members of the House.
He emphasised that this measure takes place this year.
The House then examined the Bill clause by clause and it was subsequently passed.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo thanked House Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland for his calm demeanour during the “stormy” budget debate and deliberations.
Quoting Shakespeare, the First Vice President said, “You ‘sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.”
Nagamootoo also extended thanks to the staff of the Parliament and the media and finally moved the motion for the Parliament to enter a period of recess for one month.
The House is expected to meet on October 11.