The Speaker cannot rule on whether the House can cut the Budget

Dear Editor,

Just a quick note on the report that the Speaker will rule on whether the Budget can be legally cut by the opposition. The issue in determining if the House can cut the Budget is not the Speaker’s responsibility to rule. While the Speaker may be an attorney-at-law by profession, he is not the legal adviser for the National Assembly, and that Assembly is run by its own rules. In fact, the Speaker’s role is to make sure that any motion, proposal, etc, is properly put before the House based on the Standing Order for debates, discussions, etc; and that the members conduct the nation’s business in accordance with the code of conduct they set for themselves. Any majority decision of the House, based on the constitution, laws and standing orders of the House has to be respected, unless otherwise stated by the identified instruments. Simply put, the Speaker has no role in determining whether the National Assembly can cut a Budget.

Ms Teixeira’s statement that speaks to a hybrid political system is correct. And if there exists a need to identify best practices elsewhere, these must be consistent with our unique culture which is informed by our constitution, laws and international conventions/declarations, which the constitution allows us to draw on. The constitution in outlining the objective of the political system, at Article 13, speaks to the involvement of stakeholders in decision-making in the society. And this cannot mean that one group or individual can make decisions that impact on the lives of the entire society to the exclusion of a sizeable portion. Remember, a Budget is a development plan and so long as it enters the parliament by law, the end product has to be a reflection of the represented groups in society, who are all taxpayers and must equally share in the nation’s development plan. While the executive is tasked with the role of preparing the Budget, that the nation’s widest representative arm, the National Assembly, is given the oversight role to scrutinise and approve the Budget are indicators that diverse input is sought, and in an intelligent society this input is not that of rubber-stamping but one of involvement.

It is important that is be said that amendment does not only mean cutting, it can also mean inclusion. It is also noted that in the countries referred to in the debates, there are institutions and commissions in place to monitor the nation’s financial and economic performance and hold public officials accountable, and which are seen as integral to democracy. But in Guyana even though similar institutions and commissions exist the government has refused to have them function. Note, these institutions and commissions are equally important in Budget planning, since there is a price tag to running them and such has to be appropriated, and where the government fails to factor them into the national development plan, the society must bring same to their attention and demand they act in accordance with the constitution and laws.

The argument that you can only accept or reject a budget conflicts with the desire for peoples’ involvement which the framers of the constitution, some of whom are sitting in the Assembly, knew were a critical aspiration for driving the 1990s constitutional reform.  The current Article 13 was placed in this constitution as an instrument to reduce the divisions and deepen the scope, inclusivity, and shared responsibility in national development. It is dishonest that some of the same persons who participated in this process are now setting out to deny the society the gain it struggled for in the post-1997 era, and I speak specifically to Ms Teixeira. And I want today to call out to Rupert Roopnaraine, as a member of Constitutional Reform Commission, to say to this nation if my thinking is wrong on this issue.

Finally, no constitution or law can be looked at in the abstract apart from the people or the society it sets out to serve. Because these instruments grew out of the struggles and desires of the people for peaceful co-existence and equitable development they must be respected. The members in the House have a responsibility to society and they must discharge their duty consistent with the constitution, laws and parliamentary regulations, and always have foremost in their minds that these instruments were made to meet the aspirations of the entire society, not the misplaced illusion or desired dominance of any individual or group.

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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