APNU’s Carl Greenidge says the coalition has fine-tuned actions to discipline Finance Minister Ashni Singh in the National Assembly for “contemptuously” expending monies cut from the 2012 budget.
“There are options in the House to take for any member of parliament who fails to abide by or deliberately flouts the laws and it can even lead to an expulsion. This is what is part and parcel of the rules you have,” Greenidge said during a recent interview with Stabroek News.
The action is one of many the coalition intends to undertake as it seeks to ensure
Singh is punished for his “illegal actions,” he said.
Recalling the rationale behind the decision to cut the budget, Greenidge said that the opposition parties were not satisfied with the presentations, and were not convinced that the amounts asked for were warranted. It was not an oversight or a case where the money approved was found to be insufficient, continued.
Therefore, “it has to be the utmost of contempt for (the Finance Minister) then to proceed to spend those monies on grounds that the money provided (was) not sufficient. This is absolute nonsense. The law does not say that a minister can simply spend if he doesn’t have enough money,” Greenidge argued.
He explained that “there are certain circumstances under which the minister may spend if the money was for something that was unanticipated. But he spends on the understanding that he has a case that he can bring it to the parliament for the parliament to accept and approve. This applies to none of the cases in which Dr. Singh has spent monies, and therefore his decision constitutes a contempt of the decision of the house,” Greenidge continued.
Before disciplinary actions can be taken against Singh, Greenidge explained, a complaint has to be made to the Speaker of the House by way of a notice or a formal motion. Providing the Speaker allows the action, he said, the House will move to convene the Committee of Privileges or some other special committee to decide on the matter.
And Greenidge is confident that such a motion or notice calling for such actions will yield results since, in his estimation, “that is not something I think the speaker has much flexibility on.”
During the consideration of the 2012 budgetary estimates the combined opposition – A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) – cut about $20 billion in allocations for several public agencies and government projects.
NCN, GINA, the Office of the President, the Ethnic Relations Commission and the Office of the Prime Minister were among the agencies affected while the Amaila Falls Project, the Amerindian Development Fund and the Amerindian land titling projects had their allocations reduced to one dollar.
In January of 2013, answering questions posed by Greenidge, the Finance Minister indicated that he had taken steps to legally restore the amounts that were cut.
“Where the sums approved by the National Assembly under the Appropriation Act 2012 were found to be inadequate to meet the services of government, supplementary financing was resorted to in accordance with the law,” said Singh, in a written response to Greenidge.
He had also said that the action was deemed appropriate by Attorney General Anil Nandlall and approved by Cabinet. The government had also taken the matter to court where Chief Justice Ian Chang, in an interim ruling, said the court could not restore the funds, except for allocations to the Ethnic Relations Commis-sion, which is a constitutional agency and entitled to draw directly from the Consolidated Fund.
This ruling, the government subsequently argued, justified their actions.
Reacting to the minister’s response, Greenidge said “Dr. Singh gave an answer which suggested that he might have broken the law,” and added that “there is an inconsistency with the Minister’s answer. (The) Fiscal Management and Accountability Act prohibits expenditure without appropriations.
The Attorney General must provide professional advice to the Cabinet to ensure that they keep within the ambit of the law,” he said.
Greenidge also argued that nowhere in Justice Chang’s ruling on the budget cuts did he say that anyone other than the House has the right to spend. Further, he said that the government’s reliance on the Chief Justice was ill-advised since he made the findings at the time when the final decision on the matter had not been handed down.
“Parliament is the body to approve expenditure. How is it that a judge can say, “well the parliament did not approve this expenditure but you don’t have to bother with them you just spend.” The Chief Justice never said they could spend. What he said is that in certain cases…where the minister was asking for him to be able to expend from the Contingency Fund that he could not give that power.”
He (the Chief Justice) did say though, Greenidge continued, that the minister could spend only on the clear understanding that subsequently he would be able to make a case that can persuade the House.
Evidently, Singh has failed to make a case, and Greenidge says “if you fail to make the case, you have to face the penalty.”
Commenting on the controversial spending in his column in Stabroek News, former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran there was an apparent misreading by the government on Justice Chang’s ruling, “resulting in authorized expenditure totalling $1.797 billion being incurred for the years 2012 and 2013.
This is a significant blemish in the history of public accountability in Guyana, perhaps second to the gap in public accountability at the national level during the period 1982 to 1991.”