AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan says that the party will today file a police complaint against Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh’s “illegal” spending of $4.5 billion.
“When I had indicated a formal complaint, I had simply intended to do just that. However, I was informed by various sources in the police that not being in a position to understand this kind of offence, they wanted me to outline in a brief how it is that the honourable Minister of Finance would have violated the section of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act,” Ramjattan told Stabroek News yesterday. He added that the complaint would be lodged today.
The opposition has faced criticism for not taking actions they said they would and in relation to the complaint, Ramjattan stated that it needed to be reworked to satisfy the requirements of the police. He said that as a result, he chose to outline and explain the legal jargon in simpler terms expanding on how the spending of the $4.5 billion goes against Section 218 of the Constitution.
Government has spent more than $4.5 billion of the $37.4 billion cut from this year’s $220 billion national budget and Singh on June 19, tabled Financial Paper 1 of 2014 seeking the approval of the House for the extra-budgetary spending. However, this quickly attracted the ire of the main opposition APNU as well as the AFC who have labelled it illegal.
Ramjattan yesterday said that the minister’s citing of Section 218 (3) of the Constitution to cover the spending of the money 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.
He said that compiling the complaint took time due to the work that had to be done. The AFC first announced their intention to do so in late June. “For me to explain his spending and how it goes against the Constitution and put it down in simpler language has taken some time and further analysis,” Ramjattan said. He noted that since July 6, the party has been reworking its brief.
The AFC leader said that the resources of the opposition parties are severely limited and noted that parliamentarians are not full time. “It is just one and two of us doing all this work…a parliamentarian’s life is a pretty lonely one, you have no support staff and that makes things more difficult. Even when you seek technical assistance from the parliamentary staff, they themselves are totally unaware and not au fait to some of these issues so we have to go back and do our own research,” he lamented.
Ramjattan asserted that he is not going to bring a complaint that is not comprehensive and accurate. He said that any pronouncement that the AFC is not doing “the people work is grossly inaccurate.” The lack of technical assistance can be a constraint, he stressed while adding that he is aware of the various criticisms and realistically, the AFC is doing what it could with the resources it has.
The AFC leader stated that he is aware of the criticism from former APNU Member of Parliament Jaipaul Sharma, who had said that the opposition parties lack discipline to follow through on their promises. Ramjattan told Stabroek News that as a former MP, Sharma is well aware of the constraints under which parliamentarians work considering that many are lawyers and accountants who are charged with operating their own practices.
Previously, when asked by Stabroek News just how likely the prosecution of the finance minister would be, 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.”
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.
Ramjattan had stated that the government was attempting to “bait” the opposition parties and that what was needed was calm and comprehensive decision making prior to any no-confidence motion. He had suggested that they could take the matter to the DPP and, the courts, then move for a no-confidence vote against the government.