No start date set for arguments in budget cuts appeal

A date is yet to be set for commencement of arguments in the appeal filed to challenge the ruling by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang that the 2012 budget cuts were unlawful and according to attorney Khemraj Ramjattan this is because the documents used during the High Court hearings are still being compiled.

While expressing concern at the length of time for the process, Ramjattan who appealed the matter on behalf of Speaker Raphael Trotman, told Stabroek News yesterday that once the compilation has been completed, the Chancellor will set dates for arguments to be heard in the Court of Appeal.

Ramjattan, who had filed the appeal on February 25, told Stabroek News that the records are now being finalised. He said that when a matter is filed with the Court of Appeal, the court asks the lawyers for the documents that were filed while the case was being heard in the High Court.

Ramjattan added that what the court will then get is a bundle of records, numbering in this case, about 700 pages. He said the court has to be presented with seven copies of that bundle, which have to be indexed, among other things.

The attorney averaged that by next week lawyers will be called in to “fine tune” these records to ensure that nothing has been left out.

He noted that he would like this process fast tracked.

He said that after the records are checked, the Chancellor will then finalise a set of two or three days as more than likely the arguments in the case cannot be heard on one day alone.

Ramjattan agreed that the process that leads to the start date being set is “long winded” and he noted that the shortage of court staff is among the factors that contribute to the delay.

Justice Chang, in a ruling handed down on January 29, this year, 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.

In June of 2012, Nandlall moved to the court to seek reliefs after APNU and the AFC, using their combined one-seat majority in the National Assembly, reduced the estimates by $21 billion.

The opposition had cited a lack of transparency and accountability in the explanations for the cuts to the allocations. Similar cuts were effected last year and this year.

In the Notice of Appeal, it was stated that Trotman was dissatisfied with the entire decision.

Six grounds of appeal were listed in the court documents, including the contention that the judge erred when he ruled that the National Assembly and its Committee of Supply do not have legal and constitutional authority to amend or reduce the Estimates of Revenues and Expenditure for any given year, and that he wrongly construed Articles 218 and 171 (2) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, thereby resulting in a construction that effectively ousted the National Assembly’s right and power to amend or reduce the Estimates of Revenues and Expenditure for the purpose of charging the said Estimates to the Consolidated Fund.

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