National Assembly to decide today on budget appeal

The National Assembly will today decide whether or not an appeal will be filed in the budget cuts case.

“The Speaker has indicated that he will like Parliament to decide whether the appeal will be proceeded with or not,” AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News yesterday while indicating that there are several mechanisms that could be used to decide the course of action to be pursued. Ramjattan is the attorney for Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman who was the sole defendant in the budget cuts case after the two other defendants were struck out.

Last month, delivering his long-awaited final decision, acting Chief Justice Ian Chang declared that the National Assembly acted “unlawfully and unconstitutionally” by effecting cuts to the 2012 budget estimates, after finding that its power is limited to either giving or withholding approval. According to Justice Chang, while the Assembly may approve or not approve the Finance Minister’s estimates of expenditure, it has no power to change them by either reducing or increasing them. “The power to amend may involve the power to approve. But a power to approve does not imply a power to amend,” he wrote in his decision on a challenge to the cuts that was brought to the court by Attorney-General Anil Nandlall.

Subsequently, a statement from Parliament Office said that while Justice Chang’s ruling is to be respected, it remains subject to the right of appeal and it is for the National Assembly to determine and direct the way forward. Trotman last year ruled that the National Assembly has the power to amend the budgetary allocations. Nandlall has said that until the ruling is set aside by another court, the ruling must be obeyed.

Ramjattan told Stabroek News yesterday that the question of whether or not to appeal will be decided at today’s sitting of the Assembly. The AFC leader was confident that the House will move to have an appeal filed and as soon as this is done “I will file an appeal.”

In June of 2012, Nandlall moved to the court to seek various reliefs after APNU and the AFC, using their combined one-seat majority in the National Assembly, moved to reduce the estimates by $21 billion. Similar cuts were effected last year. The opposition had cited a lack of transparency and accountability in the explanations for the cuts to the allocations.

Although President Donald Ramotar later assented to the budget passed by the National Assembly, Nandlall subsequently moved to the courts to reverse the cuts.

Leader of the main opposition APNU David Granger has said that they would appeal Justice Chang’s decision to exclude him from the 2012 budget cuts case. Granger had previously gone to the Full Court but it ruled that it had no jurisdiction to deal with Justice Chang’s decision to strike him out as a defendant in the case. On June 19 last year, Justice Chang struck out Granger and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh as defendants in the 2012 budget cuts case on the ground that they are parliamentarians and can’t be sued. This left Trotman as the sole defendant.

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