Reg. 4 REO, Chairman clash over preparation of budget
-Chairman says actions intended to frustrate RDC
By Kurt Campbell
A onetime “close relationship” as the Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Four Donald Gajraj describes it, between himself and the APNU+AFC Regional Chairman Daniel Seeram, is now strained and it has to do, in large measure, with the submission of the region’s 2022 budget to the central government for approval.
A meeting of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) on Thursday ended abruptly when Gajraj walked out and took his staff with him. He told the News Room in a subsequent interview that he felt threatened by Seeram during the meeting.
But Seeram, during an interview with the News Room, claimed that Gajraj’s actions are part of a well-coordinated motive to frustrate the work of the APNU+AFC dominated RDC.
As Seeram recalls, a budget circular was sent out by the Ministry of Finance in July 2021, advising all RDCs of the process to be followed in preparing the 2022 budget proposal and informing of a September 6, 2021 deadline.
The Chairman said he never received that circular and was only notified of it by Gajraj on September 2, 2021 – this is four days before the deadline.
“He wasn’t cooperating with us,” Seeram said, describing Gajraj as “rogue”.
Gajraj, however, claims that it is not his responsibility to notify the Chairman of the document although they had a verbal exchange on the need for the budget to be prepared. Gajraj, is in fact, the Clerk of Council who is tasked with informing the RDC of all correspondence.
He admits that he sent an email on September 02 reminding the Chairman of the September 6 deadline. It was in response to a request from Seeram for Gajraj to organise several meetings to move the process forward. Seeram said Gajraj claimed he could not find suitable venues for the meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the gazetted order.
Gajraj, who asserts full responsibility for submitting the budget, said he was forced to do so void of the input of the RDC. That budget has already received the approval of the relevant authorities in central government, Gajraj said.
The door is not closed, he assured, with Seeram and the Council still being afforded an opportunity to make suggestions to the document.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON THURSDAY?
Vice-Chairman Samuel Sandy explained that at the start of the meeting, a decision was taken by Seeram to rearrange the agenda prepared by Gajraj so as to allow for urgent attention to be given to discussions on the budget.
But Gajraj said the changes were made unilaterally by Seeram and prevented any review of the minutes and discussions on matters arising and motions.
According to the REO, four opposition Members of Parliament turned up at the meeting without his knowledge. He related that things took a turn for the worse when it was time for the REO to read the correspondence.
In this regard, Sandy said Gajraj refused to stand and respectfully address the Chairman under the guise that he was dealing with a health condition relating to his feet. He (Gajraj) would walk out of the meeting moments later, forcing an adjournment.
“In my opinion, the Clerk [Gajraj] was not up to the task,” Sandy said.
But as Gajraj explained, he felt threatened by a shouting Seeram who sought to reprimand him after he informed the meeting that he had no correspondence to read while sitting.
“In a loud disrespectful way he [Seeram] started shouting… with the invited guests and his attitude, I felt threatened and I decided to leave,” the REO related.
No date was set for the next meeting but statutory meetings of the RDC are usually held on the fourth Thursday of every month. Gajraj seems comfortable that he was able to submit a budget within the timeline given by the central government.
But the Regional Chairman said the RDC has rejected the budget, which he claimed violates the requirements of preparing it; he also noted that it was done without being ratified by the council.
“It [the circular] clearly outlines a budget committee… a structure perfect in its own way allowing for different tiers of consultations. A budget at the level of the region you have to be very intimate with it,” Seeram noted.
He said he had written to the Finance Secretary and copied the President and Local Government Minister but has received no response.
“It’s a reflection of the government because the Clerk [Gajraj] is appointed by Cabinet through the Ministry of Local Government and if he continues to act this way, boldly and blatantly, then its shows the modus operandi of the government if they do not reprimand him.
“It’s a deliberate attempt to stymie the work of the Council,” Seeram concluded.