President Donald Ramotar yesterday accused Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman of acting unprofessionally in relation to his decision to refer Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh to the National Assembly’s Privileges Committee over the minister’s spending of $4.5 billion without the approval of the Assembly.
“I found the ruling rather strange,” Ramotar said, during a news conference at State House yesterday. Singh’s spending of the $4.5 billion without the approval of the House has brought the country to the brink of a no-confidence motion against the government with the AFC leading the charge.
The move to have Singh referred to the Committee of Privileges was initiated by APNU MP Carl Greenidge, and seconded by AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan, and forms part of a series of measures against the “unlawful and unconstitutional spending of monies from the Consolidated Fund by the minority PPP/C government without the approval of the National Assembly, and in violation of the decision of the Assembly,” according to the opposition.
“It seems to me that this Speaker coming from the opposition benches with all of these facts staring you straight in the face, I don’t know how you can say that he’s acting professionally in that regard,” Ramotar said yesterday.
“Ashni Singh was not acting on his own. This was a decision of the Cabinet of which I chair,” the President said. “The Parliament went through this process in 2012 and 2013 so this is not something new. The very Speaker participated in this process in 2012 and 2013 along with other members of the Parliament,” he added.
In 2012, he said, there was a decision of the court on the matter “so there is no question about illegality and unconstitutionality of the actions that were taken. These were things that were ruled upon already. Therefore at all times, we have been working legally and within the framework of our constitution.”
Ramotar asserted that the Speaker is a lawyer and the opposition speaks about the rule of law and operating within the confines of the law but “we have a decision of the constitutional court on this matter and yet we have such a ruling.”
He also said that he has not heard the Speaker say anything about a PPP request to have Ramjattan and AFC MP Cathy Hughes referred to the Privileges Committee as well for what Ramotar stated was conflict of interest and pecuniary interest for not announcing their interest in the Amaila Falls hydropower project and in the building of the controversial specialty hospital. Hughes performed public relations for the Amaila Falls project while Ramjattan was the lawyer for one of the bidders for the building of the hospital.
The court said that Singh has the power to spend the funds, Ramotar said.
He added that it is “good news” that opposition leader David Granger has reportedly said that they are going to court on the matter.
In his ruling the Speaker rejected the section of the constitution which has been cited by the government to cover the expenditure.
Trotman’s decision would bolster the opposition’s arguments that the expenditure was ultra vires.
The decision constitutes the second time Singh has been referred to the Committee of Privileges in five months. In February he was referred to the committee 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.
The AFC said last week that the first motion is in a state of flux and could be discontinued now that the second complaint has been referred to the committee.