Budget bill signed at 11th hour

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, performing the functions of President, yesterday signed into force the Appropriations Bill 2014 thereby legally authorizing the expenditure of public funds until the end of the year.

This was confirmed to Stabroek News last evening by National Assembly Clerk, Sherlock Isaacs who said that the signed Appropriations Act 2014 was sent back to the National Assembly, and now needed to go to the National Printers to be published in the Official Gazette.

Up to yesterday afternoon the bill, passed since April 16th, had not been signed, which lent to speculation as to the reason, especially when one considers that the 2012 and 2013 Appropriations Bills were signed the day after they were passed.

Christopher Ram, a business analyst, had said that the president’s failure to sign the bill by midnight last night would have created a crisis. Legally, there could be no expenditure after April 30th if the bill was not assented to. As a result, salaries could not be paid, capital projects would be stalled, and fundamental services offered by state agencies to Guyanese citizens would have been interrupted. Essentially, government, and all the institutions and agencies it controls, would have shut down.

The situation would have been similar to what occurred in the United States last October when Congress failed to agree on measures to pass the budget. On the morning after the U.S. government shut down, around 800,000 workers (40% of the government’s civilian workforce) were without jobs, albeit temporarily, while another million were asked to work without pay, also temporarily. The shutdown lasted 16 days.

Ram told this newspaper yesterday that the government seemed to be practising brinkmanship, which he said was regrettable. The matter was also the partial focus of an Alliance for Change (AFC) press conference yesterday. Khemraj Ramjattan, the party’s leader, had lamented that any government expenditure after April 30th without the president’s assent to the bill would be illegal. Spending over the last four months, he said, was allowed under Article 216 of the constitution, but Ramjattan pointed out that this leeway would expire at midnight last night.

Though the bill was passed on the 16th, it was not sent to the president until last Friday. Isaacs had said that changes needed to be made to reflect the amendments effected to the budget by the Committee of Supply of Parliament. These changes then had to be validated, he said. This process concluded only last week.

Yesterday, Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon would give no definitive answer on whether or not the bill would be assented to. During his weekly press conference, he told members of the press that since President Donald Ramotar received the bill he had not reviewed it in detail as he left early Monday to attend the Caricom-Mexico Sum-mit in Mexico City.

Luncheon stated that the bill was presented inclusive of the ten budget cuts, two of which being the capital and current expenditure for the Office of the President. He said dryly that the opposition’s intention was to have the Office of the President erect for-rent signs as the complete budget for that portfolio has been cut. He continued that by renting the compound a revenue stream could be established to run the ministry.

 

He said: One can anticipate that the administration will have to undertake those interventions that are necessary to allow it to discharge its constitutional responsibilities and to do so within the meaning and the exercise of the laws of Guyana”.

The budget, as initially presented by the Finance Minister was $220 billion. By the time the final cut was made, $37.4 had been excised, leaving 182.6 billion.

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