Budget 2017…as Greenidge defends $1B payout to international organisationsForeign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge was hauled across the coals on Tuesday in Parliament for a $1 billion payout in contributions to international organisations and the accumulation of $3 billion in spending on Ambassadors.Pointing out that the supplementary financial papers showed that funding was increased to $1.17 billion, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira asserted that this signified a “phenomenal” hike of over half a billion dollars in contributions from 2016 to 2017 to the international organisations.Opposition Chief Whip Gail TeixeiraHowever, Greenidge argued that while Teixeira was right in her assessment that the increase was significant, the payout reflected the negotiations between the Government through the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the external agencies for the clearance of arrears in 2017.“We have a number of arrears of significant size in a number of agencies… and we have negotiated for the arrears to be reduced,” he told the Committee of Supply.Some of the organisations which came under scrutiny were the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, whose fee climbed from $31.4 million in 2016 to $427.2 million in 2017, while the United Nations local offices’ cost jumped from $16.7 million in 2016 to $65.8 million in 2017. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) fee saw a leap from $9.9 million to $40.5 million in 2017.Additionally, Teixeira questioned why the Organisation of American States (OAS) is receiving monies from both the Public Infrastructure and the Foreign Affairs Ministries. She stated that the OAS received $1.29 million in 2016 and another $1.29 million is allocated in 2017 to be paid by the Public Infrastructure Ministry.Foreign Affairs Minister Carl GreenidgeHowever, Greenidge said he was unaware that this was happening. He indicated that the cost for the UN local offices covers arrears of US$219,471. He stated that relative to the IMPACS, the increase represents an amendment to what would be Guyana’s annual contribution.He noted that arrears of EC$407,587 which have accrued since 2016 were now being paid to the CDEMA.Regardless, Teixeira quipped whether clearing the arrears left Guyana at an advantage, adding that it has not aided the country in the past.She said further that even international countries like the US owe billions. Nevertheless, Greenidge was adamant that it was crucial to remain current on the financial front to ensure that Guyana has a voice and allies when the need arose.Excessive spendingMeanwhile, Teixeira pushed Greenidge to produce a cost benefit analysis since some $3 billion was spent on Ambassadors. She also called on him to validate a $200 million increase in the amount allocated for contract employees under the “Foreign Policy Promotion” programme for the Foreign Ministry’s 2017 budget. The Opposition Chief Whip asked the Foreign Minister to release a list of all posts filled with Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and Charge d’Affairés and deputies, as well as Consul Generals. She said further that the list should include the emoluments, salaries and benefits of these persons.However, Greenidge stated that the increase reflected almost all the new postings in terms of Principal Foreign Officers and Ambassadors, along with employment of new Ambassadors in London, Ottawa, Havana, New York, Brussels, and Nickerie.These contracts, he said, run for a year to three years, depending on negotiations between the Government and the individual.It must be noted that the number of employees under the Ministry’s “Foreign Policy Promotion” programme increased from 156 to 183, while the number of contract employees almost tripled and the allocation for the programme under the Ministry moved from $2.36 billion in 2016 to $3.05 billion in 2017. It was highlighted that the only post that has not been filled is the Consul General position in Canada. It was also stated that payments of rent were jacked up from $696.7 million to $921.5 million.“The benefits outweigh the cost,” Greenidge responded.The appointment of Guyana’s Ambassador-designate to Kuwait, Shamir Ally, was also raised by the Opposition Chief Whip. She questioned who was paying for his stay in the country and also the status of his appointment since it was halted by an investigation relating to legal woes with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.Greenidge responded that Ally has not been endorsed and has not been paid; instead he is living on an allowance provided to him. Teixeira quipped that the process was taking a long time.She also asked whether the Government has guidelines to ensure Guyana would not surpass its fiscal commitments to support living arrangements for Ambassadors. In reply, Greenidge stated, “Policy of the Ministry is not one that allows Ambassadors or Ambassador-designates to arrive and rent a building.” This gained him another question: whether it is beneficial to have diplomatic missions in Geneva, Brussels, Trinidad and Kuwait? He countered that the Swiss Government has agreed to facilitate Guyana’s cost for residence assistance and that the other missions allow for engagement with the World Trade Organisation, which is central for the Government’s financial negotiation.