Opposition to vote against unapproved $4.6B gov’t spending

The parliamentary opposition yesterday signaled that it will not approve government’s $4.6 billion excess expenditure from the Consolidated Fund when it comes up for a vote at the next parliamentary sitting.

APNU executive Joseph Harmon and AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan both said their respective groups, which command a combined one-seat majority in the National Assembly, would not supply the needed votes to approve the $4,553,991 in supplemental spending.

Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh last week tabled government’s Financial Paper for the expenditure, which covers allocations cut from the proposed 2014 national budget. Of the total amount, $66.4 million went to the Government Information Agency (GINA), $32.6 to the National Communication Network (NCN) and $306 million to the controversial Amerindian Development Fund (ADF). Additionally, $225 million went towards the Student Loan Fund, while over $1 billion went towards the continuation of work on the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) Modernisation Project.

Joseph Harmon
Joseph Harmon

Singh said the decision to spend the amounts was based on a ruling by Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang to the effect that the National Assembly has no authority to cut the budget. He also said government’s decision is informed by provisions in the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability (FMA) Act.

Both opposition groups have condemned government spending in defiance of expressed disapproval by the National Assembly and they have promised to retaliate in one form or another.

However it was only yesterday that definitive positions were stated. Harmon told reporters during a media briefing yesterday that main opposition APNU will definitely not support the approval of the expenditure.

Reiterating the sentiments of several other coalition members, Harmon deemed Finance Minister Singh’s actions unconstitutional and suggested that actions will be taken again him soon. He also said it is likely the coalition will seek to have Singh referred to the Committee of Privileges, again.

 Ashni Singh
Ashni Singh

Singh was first referred to the committee in February for matters surrounding his failure to comply with a parliamentary resolution that required him to provide reports on extra-budgetary agencies, and to pay all monies being held by such agencies into the Consolidated Fund.

Harmon has acknowledged, however, that the Privileges Committee has met just once on the matter since February, owing to several complications. He says APNU will seek to expedite the committee’s work where Singh is concerned.

Meanwhile, Ramjattan has also stated, definitively, that the AFC will not support the expenditure when the matter arises during the next sitting. “Absolutely not, it is criminal and illegal,” Ramjattan told Stabroek News during an interview last evening. He says what Singh has done on three occasions – proceed to spend amounts cut in 2012, 2013, and 2014 – amounts “daylight robbery of the Treasury” and that he needs to be held accountable.

The Finance Minister has argued that Section 41 of the FMA Act, which gives him the authority to use the Contingencies Fund with initiative, justifies his expenditure. The opposition parties though, as well as other observers, including analyst Christopher Ram, believes the minister is trying to twist the legislative provision to cover what they see as illegal spending.

Questions linger though, on what will become of the spent amounts if it is not approved. If the National Assembly does not approve the amount it cannot be restored to the Contingences Fund. This is similar to

Khemraj Ramjattan
Khemraj Ramjattan

what occurred the last time the minister took such action.

Since the start of the 10th Parliament the minister has laid six Financial Papers detailing his use of the Fund. The papers hold a collective value of about $9.358 billion. The combined opposition in the National Assembly has approved 92.6 percent ($8.7 billion) of this amount, and Singh has argued that this is testimony of their approval of his use of the Fund, for the most part.

Still, the expenditure of $658 million was not approved, yet nothing has been done about this amount.

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