Gov’t doesn’t see need for witness testimony on budget cuts

Attorney General Anil Nandlall is hoping to avoid presenting witnesses to support government’s challenge to last year’s budget cut, saying it is unnecessary and that the evidence contained in affidavits filed with the action should be used as evidence.

Nandlall, at a hearing on Tuesday, made the request for the use of the affidavits as evidence, even as the lawyer for Speaker Raphael Trotman said that the government’s filings contained information that was being disputed and that cross-examination is necessary.

Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang, who told Nandlall and lawyers for the respondents that they were wasting time and urged them to speed things up during the hour-long proceedings, will rule on the application next Wednesday.

Last year, the opposition effected over $20 billion in cuts from the government’s proposed budget, prompting the government’s move to the courts to reverse the cuts. In an interim ruling, Justice Chang, however, said that while the National Assembly did not have the power to cut the budget, the court could not restore the funding sought by government, except for allocations to the Ethnic Relations Commission which is a constitutional agency and entitled to draw directly from the Consolidated Fund.

In presenting his argument as to why the affidavits should be used as opposed to witnesses having to appear before the court to testify, Nandlall cited several legal articles, including the Rules of the High Court, which provide for instances where affidavit evidence can be used as opposed to oral testimony. “I submit that this case is one that the court should consider as appropriate to invest its power vested by this rule,” he said.

Attorney Khemraj Ramjattan, who is representing Trotman, who is listed as one of the respondents in the action, stated that there are parts of the government’s filings that are disputed.

Further, he said that it was his preference for witnesses to testimony since people don’t understand the workings of Parliament. He also said that he would like to cross-examine whoever takes the stand.

Nandlall later told reporters outside the courtroom that the matters which were raised were matters of pure law.
“The facts are not in dispute. They are facts of notoriety. And they are supported by records of the National Assembly,” he said, while adding that the “narrow issue” is whether the estimates presented by the Minister of Finance can be reduced by a motion moved by the opposition.

“That being the narrow legal issue, it is my humble, considered view that there is no need for us to embark on a trial, so to speak, in terms of leading witnesses. I have therefore asked that the affidavits, which were used at the interlocutory stage, to be treated as evidence and the rules of the courts permit that to be done,” he explained.

Williams said that “I was kinda surprise today because the Attorney General brought this action and this kind of action is an action where you have to establish the case with witnesses.” As a result, he said, it was a surprise when he made an application to “hide his witnesses, not to let his witnesses come… not to let [Head of the Presidential Secretariat] Dr. [Roger] Luncheon come….but that they should send their evidence through paper. We are very much taken aback by that.”

Ramjattan, meanwhile, said that he was seeking a ruling on the issue of whether civil proceedings can be brought against members of parliament and whether there can be amendments to the budget as presented in estimates for the 2012 financial year. “We would like to have the Chief Justice rule on it and that is why in relation to all the arguments which were related there just now, we would like the Chief Justice to make a final ruling as to whether those two issues are determinable and how they should be determined,” he noted.

Nandlall welcomed this position, while adding that it is important that these legal issues be settled “because they keep raising themselves in the National Assembly,” including during the consideration of this year’s budget, which saw more cuts.

“So hopefully we will get a ruling which would put some of these matters to rest and whoever is aggrieved by that ruling would then be free to file an appeal… at the end of the day, there will be some closure,” the Attorney General said, adding that when the case resumes next week he hopes “that we will get a ruling on how the Chief Justice would proceed, whether or not he would take those affidavits and whether we need to submit to him on matters of law.”

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