THE Working People’s Alliance (WPA) said it is alarmed over what it describes as the exorbitant rent being paid to house Ministers of Government, saying that such privilege should be removed entirely or reduced significantly.
Executive Members of the WPA, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, Dr. David Hinds and Tacuma Ogunseye made the call on Tuesday during a press conference at Rodney House in Queenstown, Georgetown.
The call comes on the heels of public disclosure that the Parliament Office had rented a house for the Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources, Simona Broomes, for $500, 000 per month. The Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, has recently disclosed that $500, 000 has been set as the ceiling for the renting of houses for Government Ministers, but according to the WPA, the figure is simply “outrageous.”
“The issue of lavish spending on government functionaries is one that dogged the previous government and which was correctly condemned by the then opposition parties. It is therefore a matter of grave concern when similar practices seem to be creeping into the behaviour of the present government,” WPA Executive Member Sarabo-Halley said.
No super salaries
While the WPA does not object to government ministers being compensated at levels befitting their office, Sarabo-Halley said the alliance is up in arms against super-salaries and other compensation that seem to have become the norm in Guyana.
“WPA cannot in all conscience defend and support government payment of half a million dollars rent for ministers. When one places this fact against the 50 per cent rise in salary that was given to them in 2015, it borders on government splurging of taxpayers’ money. If ministers are being paid healthy salaries, enjoy the usual perks that come with the office and get their rent paid at 500,000 per month, then that amounts to enrichment at the expense of government. It was wrong under the PPP and it cannot be correct now,” she stated.
The WPA executive member contended that the time has come for the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Government to distinguish itself from the People’s Progressive Party on matters pertaining to the management of state resources.
“WPA wishes to draw to our government’s attention that at a time when we bemoan the huge gap between the rich and the poor, it is inexcusable for us to be paying a monthly rent for ministers that amount to approximately six times that of the monthly salary of the average public servant,” she stated.
While the WPA believes that the $25,000 housing allowance for ministers may be inadequate, it strongly believes that $500,000 is far beyond reasonable.
Commenting on the issue, Ogunseye told reporters that while the alliance has not worked out a figure for the rental of houses for Government Ministers, it is believed that the figure should be a “reasonable one.”
Asked whether the advice reportedly given by the Finance Minister Winston Jordan to have the ceiling reduced to $300,000 is “reasonable,” both Ogunseye and Dr. Hinds responded in the negative.
“That is still too high,” Dr. Hinds exclaimed. For him, if the regular citizen from Berbice or Linden is made to find his or her own accommodation upon securing employment in the city, the same should be for ministers who reside outside of Region Four.
“This is a matter of morality. How can you as governors say to the rest of the population we can’t give you 10 per cent, we can only afford a 5 per cent, and then turn around and pay a rent of 500,000. These are ministers with big salaries and then you turn around and pay their rents. It is unconscionable,” Dr. Hinds lamented. He questioned why there should be separate standards for Government Ministers and the regular man on the street. Dr. Hinds said if ministers cannot find their own accommodation, the Government houses should be made available to them. The WPA executive emphasised that if there is a need for houses to be rented, then such should be done at a reasonable cost.
Miners for Broomes
But even as the WPA is calling for a review of the ceiling on rents being paid for Government Ministers, several miners are calling for an end to the “attacks” on Minister Broomes. On Tuesday morning, more than 20 miners and supporters of the Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources gathered at Duke Lodge to show their solidarity.
One of the supporters, Nadezhda Stephens, who described herself as a staunch PPP supporter, said politicians are “too petty” to be picking on a minister’s housing arrangement while critical issues are to be addressed.
“Minister Broomes…this is somebody that I have watched growing up. This is the one woman who inspired me and make me believe that I am capable of doing what I am today. I am a successful small miner,” Stephens said.
According to her, Minister Broomes is a champion for young women, women miners, and the regular man in the street.
Sandra Dharnraj, another supporter, pointed out that the minister owns her own home. “What she has, she worked for it. She didn’t come in Parliament to earn what she earns, she is a woman with a home, not a house,” Dharnraj posited.
A miner, Leon Moses, who hails from Parika, said his support is very deep- seated. “She represents us, she advocates for us and she advocates for the less fortunate, and in every area she was placed, she made a positive impact. Always working for the good of the working class,” Moses said.
Commenting briefly on the issue, Minister Broomes said she is not responsible for the renting of the house. “I am not renting a place from no body, I am not even a witness to the contract. It is a building that Government has provided for me to live in,” she said. According to her, it is a common practice for Governments to provide accommodation for their ministers, particularly those residing out of town. Currently, houses are being rented for Minister Broomes and Minister within the Ministry of Communities with responsibility for Housing, Valerie Adams-Patterson, both of whom hail from Bartica and Linden respectively.