Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh on Tuesday presented a revision of the 2014 budget paving the way for the judiciary to be financed via a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund.
Prior to the start of the consideration of the budget estimates, Singh said that the Supreme Court’s financial autonomy was in keeping with the Constitution which outlines that entities under the Third Schedule, Article 222A shall be funded by a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund.
The $1.19B allocated for the Supreme Court under various heads in the 2014 budget was consolidated, with the body now able to revise allocations. However Singh stated that while the line itemization was removed the opposition would still be allowed to ask questions as to how monies would be spent and where.
On April 9, Singh agreed to a framework that would see the judiciary gain full financial independence in response to an APNU-proposed motion to postpone the budget consideration until the agencies under the Third Schedule of the Constitu-tion were given financial independence.
Since 2012 the opposition had tabled a motion which aimed at having the various service commission achieve financial independence from the finance ministry. The motion targeted the Judicial, Public, Teaching, and Police service commissions stating that instead of having allocations provided by the government the commissions could draw directly from the Consolidated Fund. While the motion was passed, the government had balked at this until the recent announcement by Singh. It has long been argued by commentators that the independence of the judiciary would be enhanced by enabling the direct charge on the Consolidated Fund.
Meanwhile, as the consideration of the budget estimates continued on Tuesday, the Committee of Supply approved the Minister of Legal Affairs’ budget of $288 million for both current and capital expenditure. APNU MP James Bond questioned Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall about the small amounts provided for training inclusive of scholarships totalling $105,000 for all three programmes while there was over $1.2 million allocated for meals and refreshments.
The minister responded that scholarships for various training programmes are utilized under the Public Service Ministry. Members of the opposition did not ask why the budget listed the $105,000 under a line item titled training including scholarships.
When given the opportunity to scrutinise the $671 million allocated for training and scholarships under the Public Service Ministry later on in the evening, members of the opposition seemed satisfied and passed the public service budget totalling $829 million, with little questioning.
Nandlall evaded questions relating to the $106 million allocated for public prosecutions stating that he could not disclose sensitive information. The opposition focused their line of questioning around contracted employees and the variation of wages and salaries paid from 2013 to that proposed in 2014.