Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh says he is oblivious to what will happen if the National Assembly does not vote to approve his spending of $4.5 billion of the $36.7 billion cut from Budget 2014.
At the same time, Singh says he is aware of cases where “nothing happened” following the National Assembly’s non-approval of money spent under identical circumstances.
He made these statements during a media briefing last evening as he again sought to explain the rationale behind his authorising expenditure totalling $4.5 billion from the Consolidated Fund after the National Assembly voted against the amounts earlier this year.
The briefing was called amidst a torrent of criticism levelled by observers, including the opposition groups – the Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) – which are mulling a no-confidence motion against the administration of President Donald Ramotar as a consequence of the expenditure.
The AFC’s members have suggested that it is only a matter of time before the motion is moved, while APNU’s representatives say they will decide the probability of the coalition’s support for the motion by next Tuesday. In the meantime, the National Assembly must decide whether it will support the expenditure during next week’s sitting.
The opposition parties have already signalled their intention to vote against the expenditure, but there is no clear indication of what the National Assembly’s non-support will mean.
Last month, Singh laid Financial Paper 1 of 2014 in the National Assembly as a statement of excess seeking to clear expenditure amounting to $4.5 billion that was not approved by the opposition parties in the National Assembly.
More than not being approved, the amount was part of a larger sum of $36.7 billion slashed from the 2014 budget. The amount cut included allocations for the Student Loan Fund, the Amerindian Development Fund, the National Communi-cations Network and the Government Information Agency. The opposition parties have expressed outrage, but the government argues that the decision was informed by constitutional provisions, provisions in the Financial Management and Accountability Act, and a decision by the Chief Justice that it is within the purview of the Finance Minister to determine when/if there is a need for such actions to be taken.
As he has done before Singh pointed to Article 218 (3) (a) and (b) of the constitution. The legislation states: “If in respect of any financial year it is found (a) that the amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient or that a need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by that Act ; or
(b) that any monies have been expended for any purpose in excess of the amount appropriated for that purpose by the Appropriation Act or for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by that Act, a supplementary estimate or, as the case may be, a statement of excess showing the sums required or spent shall be laid before the National Assembly by the Minister responsible for finance or any other Minister designated by the President”.
Singh also said that Standing Order (SO) 78 (1) of the National Assembly upholds his authority to make such decisions. He says that such decisions are nothing new as there were three other such Financial Papers – two in 2012 and one in 2013 – which were laid without accusations of abuse by the opposition parties. Furthermore, he is saying that the majority of the amount (58.1 percent) was approved by the very opposition now crying foul.
“I don’t know if they are now professing that they were sleeping,” the minister said, while charging that any claims of abuse now are “an attempt to mislead the nation…the law is clear, the vote of parliament is clear,” he said.
More than the political parties, Singh’s rationale has been dismissed by former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran and Chartered Accountant and Analyst Christopher Ram. Goolsarran says that Article 218(3) (b), which is what the government is relying on, is not applicable to this scenario.
He is of the opinion that it may have been intended for extreme circumstances such as a national emergency. Ram has also said that Singh’s use of this legislation to validate his actions is ill-placed.