Apparently sensing that it could trigger a no-confidence vote against it, the government is not proceeding with a controversial financial paper in Parliament on Thursday and the opposition will now adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
Originally, A Partner-ship for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) had set a deadline of today for deciding on whether to proceed with a no-confidence vote against what they say was the illegal spending of $4.55 billion by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh. However, the Order Paper for Thursday’s sitting states that the paper is not on the agenda. This is unusual as once tabled, financial papers are usually deliberated on at the next sitting of the Assembly.
Both APNU and the AFC have described the expenditure as a line in the sand considering that they had expressly voted against these programmes during the consideration of this year’s budget. The parties are also considering a number of other measures prior to a possible no-confidence vote which could bring down the government and lead to General Elections.
Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News yesterday that “there is no decision tomorrow [today] because the government will not be bringing the financial papers to the Parliament… our decision as to the no-confidence (motion) was largely on the government’s misspending and it would have to be determined on what happens with the financial papers and the spending thereafter.”
Ramjattan said the decision to defer consideration of the financial paper could have been taken to allow more time for the government to build its case. He said “we have made it clear we are not authorizing it. The constant breaching and violating of the virtue of the Constitution needs” to end.
He said, “I rather suspect they have moved it down from Thursday to another day to further rationalise or seek further legal advice.” Ramjattan charged that the spending of the $4.55 billion from the Consolidated Fund was illegal and charges could be brought against Finance Minister Singh.
“The argument is obviously coming down to he himself that he may realize he may be charged personally and prosecuted and that is why he doesn’t want to bring it up for Thursday,” Ramjattan opined. Singh has steadfastly cited a series of constitutional and other provisions which he said have cleared the way for the expenditure. The opposition parties have been equally adamant that it is not permitted.
Ramjattan said that his party would not be rushing into any decisions and that prior to a no-confidence motion he would be filing a formal complaint with the Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on the spending. Stabroek News asked how likely the prosecution of the finance minister would be, to which Ramjattan said, “we must not for the want of thinking it will not happen not do it, otherwise it will be self-defeating and that is why I am preparing a brief for the police and the DPP.”
During a media briefing on July 3, held at the National Communications Network, the Finance Minister was asked what would happen should the opposition refuse to pass the financial paper and he responded that nothing would happen. Singh has argued that he was aware of identical circumstances where nothing happened following the National Assembly’s non-approval of money spent.
The government has attempted to use the Constitution to justify the spending under the facility of the statement of excess. Both the AFC and the APNU have held staunchly to the position that Section 218 (3) of the Constitution which has been cited by Singh is not applicable because the money spent was never approved in the first place so a statement of excess could not be laid before the National Assembly.
“We are the elected representatives. We had voted it down but they still went and spent the money,” Ramjattan said. He chastised the government’s use of the Constitution arguing that Section 218 (3) does not make a case for the expenditure that Singh embarked upon.
Ramjattan posited yesterday that the government was baiting the opposition to move a no-confidence motion prematurely or to take to the streets. “Elected officials voted down a line item and they [the government] say nothing will happen… When they say nothing will be done we would love to take the Gandhian approach and take it to the courts and not take to the streets.”
The AFC leader stated that the government would like the opposition to protest in the streets, but the AFC will not be provoked like that. He said that “we feel like… take it to the DPP, take it to the courts then go to a no-confidence motion…”
Ramjattan said that for now the party will hold off on any drafting of a no-confidence motion as main opposition coalition APNU needed more time as well. He highlighted that the measures that were necessary now needed to be calmly proceeded with so as not to allow the government to dictate the direction of the outcome. He said that taking to the streets which could result in confusion could be manipulated by the government and broadcast for weeks to promote fear in voters.
Critics have pointed out that without the opposition playing their hand the government could delay indefinitely bringing the financial paper to the National Assembly. Further, the money has already been withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund and utilized by the government so the ball is now effectively in the opposition’s court.
The AFC and APNU met formally on July 3 to discuss a comprehensive approach to a possible no-confidence motion. Speaking with Stabroek News last week, Leader of APNU David Granger stated that a decision on the matter would be made by today but this was on the presumption that Parliament would convene on Thursday with the financial paper up for discussion.
Granger noted that while the party considers a possible no-confidence motion it was important to think about the “matter on hand” which he said was the “Minister of Finance advancing an illegality of something that was physically excluded from the Appropriation Act; there is no legal justification for his actions.” He said that APNU’s major concern was ensuring that the “illegal” spending was addressed.