APNU bill aims to penalize Finance Minister over budget cuts ‘breach’ -Greenidge

Financial and economic point man of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Carl Greenidge says that his party will soon be bringing to the House legislation seeking to enforce penalties upon Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh for what he called breaches of the law with respect to expenditure without appropriations.

Speaking to this newspaper yesterday, Greenidge said, “We will be laying legislation in relation to this. Flagrant breaches of the law by Ministers must attract sanctions.” He pointed out that the law will also be dealing with Permanent Secretaries who commit acts of wrongdoing at the behest of the subject Minister to whom he or she reports.

Carl Greenidge
Carl Greenidge

“Dr. Singh gave an answer which suggested that he might have broken the law,” said Greenidge, adding that the law does not allow the Minister to pay out money without the authority of an Appropriation Act.

Greenidge had asked of the Finance Minister whether the funds cut from the 2012 budget and not approved by the House have been restored to the Ministries, and if so, what categories and sums have been involved, the legal basis for such payments and what advice was provided on this matter by the Attorney General.

Greenidge had also asked what section of the Chief Justice Ian Chang’s report/decision suggests that either the Chief Justice or the Ministry of Finance can restore cuts to the budget or that the Chief Justice can authorise the Ministry of Finance to make advances from the Consolidated Fund.

In response to the written question tabled on January 10, the Minister said that allocations cut from last year’s national budget were lawfully restored when the sums approved were found to be inadequate.

“Where the sums approved by the National Assembly under the Appropriation Act 2012 were found to be inadequate to meet the services of government, supplementary financing was resorted to in accordance with the law,” said Singh, in a written response.

Singh had said too in his response that the categories and sums involved have already been reported to the House in successive financial papers.

He had said that the legal basis for such payments were the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003. He had said too that the Attorney General confirmed in advance the appropriateness of the course of action adopted and it was also approved by Cabinet.

“There is an inconsistency with the Minister’s answer. Fiscal Management and Accountability Act prohibits expenditure without appropriations. The Attorney General must provide professional advice to the Cabinet to ensure that they keep within the ambit of the law,” he said.

Greenidge in making his point argued that nowhere in the Chief Justice’s ruling on the budget cuts did he say that anyone other than the House has a right to spend. Further, he said that the Government’s reliance on the ruling of the Chief Justice was ill-advised since he made the comments at a time when the final decision on the matter had not been handed down. “The recourse to the Chief Justice is not acceptable because the Chief Justice did not give his final decision,” said Greenidge. He said that the Chief Justice cannot instruct the House to spend and that he will be exposing the court to ridicule should he make decisions which the court cannot enforce.

He said too that the Minister cannot take the FMAA, which he said offends the Constitution, to be the legal basis for his argument for the restoration of funds.

Ashni Singh
Ashni Singh

Last April, the opposition effected $20 billion in cuts from the budget, citing a lack of transparency and accountability in the explanations for the allocations. The government later moved to restore the amounts through an action in the High Court.

Although he ruled that the National Assembly did not have the power to cut the budget, acting Chief Justice Chang in July, in an interim ruling, said the court could not restore the funds, except for allocations to the Ethnic Relations Commission, which is a constitutional agency and entitled to draw directly from the Consolidated Fund.

Among those affected by the cuts were contract workers at the Office of the President and employees at other affected state entities, who were all later paid.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon had said that that the $1 that was approved by the opposition for the various agencies was totally inconsistent with the constitutional provision as ruled by the Chief Justice. “The provision of a $1, the Chief Justice ruled was clearly inconsistent with that provision in the law so the Finance Minister did what the law provided for and made the money available to meet those expenditures,” Dr. Luncheon said.

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