The National Assembly is empowered by the constitution and the Standing Orders to cut the budget

Dear Editor,

In an article in the Kaieteur News dated April 11, captioned ‘APNU, AFC vote to defer estimates, put dent in Govt’s plan’ it is stated that the “government wanted the  consideration of the estimates to begin today, as it would rob the opposition of its power to cut certain items because of the illness of MP Allen. The opposition is required to give a 24-hour notice of its intention to cut spending” It stated further, “The government was especially jittery about the estimates of the Home Affairs Ministry and the Office of the President, which were cut down in last year’s budget.
“And so, the government’s plan, if it had its way, was to have those estimates for Home Affairs and the Office of the President, considered first and force it through to approval with the opposition being powerless to cut.”

I am of the belief that Parliament can indeed institute cuts, and that it was not done prior to 2012 simply because both the PPP and the PNC commanded the majority and refused any input from the opposition.

Article 171 of the constitution, among other things, gives the sole right to a cabinet-signified minister to proceed upon any motion or bill, (or any amendment thereto), for imposing any charge on the Consolidated Fund. But it gives the right to any member other than a minister to proceed upon a motion or bill to reduce that charge. We need to understand these words “other than by reducing it” in subarticle (2) a ii of that article.

Standing Order 71 (b) says: “The motion for the approval of the Estimates shall be amended if necessary, and put, without further debate, as moved or as amended, as the case may be. (my emphasis). Note the word ‘amended.’

Another relevant Standing Order, SO 75 which deals with the procedures in Committee of Supply says (1) that when every head of Estimates has been decided, the “Chairperson shall put the question to the Committee that the Estimates (or the Estimates as amended) be reported to the Assembly. The Minister in charge of the Estimates shall report it to the Assembly.” The word ‘amended’ must mean something.

SO 76, points to the power the National Assembly and is subtitled, ‘Amendments to Heads of Estimates of Committee of Supply.’ It provides:

“(1) An amendment to any Head of Expenditure to reduce the sum allotted thereto in respect of any item therein may be moved by any Member, and shall take the form of a motion …”

Is there still any doubt that the constitution and the Standing Orders allow amendments in the form of cuts?

The Finance Minister himself reported to the National Assembly in 2012, “Mr. Speaker, I beg to report that the Committee of Supply considered the Estimates of Expenditure for the financial year 2012 and approved of them as amended.”

In 2012 the Minister then proceeded to an Appropriation Bill and did this as a representative of the executive branch. He said in Budget 2012, “Cabinet has indicated its consent that the National Assembly proceeds with consideration of this Bill… with amended Schedule, of course.”

So reducing the Estimates ought never to be interpreted to be an intrusion by the National Assembly into the domain of the executive, as this is allowable and the Assembly is empowered by the constitution and the SOs to so do.

The government will keep emphasizing that the opposition would utilize its one seat majority to do this and to do that but what would happen if the government had one seat more than the opposition ‒ would the phrase change? The government would use its one seat to do what it wanted.

It is important that waste is cut. It is important that we curb unnecessary expenditure that would just benefit those who get drawbacks and not the taxpayers and the country. The government told protesting villagers on the East Bank Berbice that their road cannot be done, but we are finding money to build the Marriott that would eventually benefit some private investor. We are building a four-lane highway at Timehri that is not necessary considering the level of traffic.

According to Minister Irfaan Ali, Caribbean Air could not bring in all the passengers for Easter, but we plan to spend a huge amount to build a new airport. Why? I was on the Board of Directors of the Guyana Tourism Authority and we recognized that we needed to spend money on the clearing of Guyana’s bad image abroad, but the GTA was starved of the necessary funds.

Maybe we can and should spend the money we have allocated to the Marriott and the airport on putting back our own airline since it is clear that it is vitally needed in order to end the present monopoly. Maybe what we need is a modern canning factory to prevent so much of the farmers’ produce from perishing. Maybe what we need is a huge new agriculture scheme in the Kimbia area.

We cannot and must not permit this government that has through its own mismanagement, its own betrayal, its own deep-rooted corruption, its own autocratic and arrogant conduct lost its majority to continue riding roughshod over our people and over the finances of Guyana.

Parliament the highest forum in this land must hold it accountable or Parliament would be a waste of the people’s money. The remaining supporters of the PPP must ask the PPP why it is not establishing for one, the Procurement Commission?

Yours faithfully,
Rajendra Bisessar

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