The constitution tasks the executive with the responsibility of Budget preparation

Dear Editor,

The National Assembly’s approval of the National Budget without trying to put systems in place to ensure adherence to the law in relation to spending and striving for good governance is a setback for this nation. And while this nation followed with keen interest the debates, including those in relation to the  areas the opposition said they would amend, the nation has an abiding interest in good governance. For those who require good governance, that is, accountability, rights and the rule of law, this budget was not only about the excision of unwarranted or unjustified spending, it was about ensuring government was put on a path where it governed in the interest of all, played by the same rules as the masses, and was held to the same standards. It is about creating a level playing field in the corridors of government and on the streets.

And if the government members of the National Assembly and the executive expect the ordinary man and woman/workers to be held accountable for their actions under the law, then the ordinary man and woman are correct in their expectations that the politicians, whom they have elected to parliament to represent their interests, are equally held so accountable. It is opportune to note that the executive during the 2013 debates, made known that while the 2012 Budget denied spending in some areas, it nonetheless withdrew from the Contingencies Fund to make good the loss. This is a flagrant violation of the laws and contempt for the National Assembly.

Now, if the ordinary man and woman had taken what’s not ours, such would be considered a criminal offence and make them liable to be placed before the courts. And because we know such an accountability factor exists, most of us will not yield to wrongdoing. In fact, the laws become the deterrent. Normally, a government would be happy to prove that it is committed to governing in the interest of the people, through leadership by example. But as this society strives to secure such government, the people need to demand their elected representatives do the right thing.

Lest we forget, the government that governs best is a government that respects the people and takes on board their legitimate interests and desires. Good governance strives to ensure accountability to the people, whose interests they serve, by putting systems in place to operate in an honest and open manner. The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill passed by this National Assembly and sent to President Ramotar for assent seeks to hold government officials accountable, equally as the Criminal Law (Offences) Act seeks to hold the ordinary man and woman accountable.

This Bill not only seeks to ensure appropriate punishment should there be violations, it also serves as a guide to what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and is therefore critical to good governance. The failure of our politicians on either or both sides of the House to stand up and give leadership on matters of national importance, when said approach was utilised before, brings into question the present parliamentary body.

For instance, in 1971 the desire by the Forbes Burnham government to nationalise Demerara Bauxite (Demba) required the PPP’s support to remove the word “prompt” before the word “payment” as outlined in Article 8 of the then Constitution. This constitutional amendment required a two-thirds majority, and to have the PPP’s support the government agreed to honour Cheddi Jagan’s five demands, among them being: 1) the recognition of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU); 2) the employment of PPP members who studied in the USSR and Eastern bloc countries; 3) the released of PPP supporter, Baichan Persaud, who had been remanded on a murder charge.

These agreements were sealed in one night and prior to the PPP’s support (vote) for the constitutional amendment. Also on another matter of national importance, Jagan’s support for Burnham’s policy was premised on the government granting duty free concession to GAWU for the purchase of motor bikes for its field secretaries. This too was honoured prior to support.

Some will call the above a quid pro quo. However, what is most striking is that both parties benefited. And to this end it should be said that regardless of what society may think about Burnham and Jagan, both men recognised the need for working together to deliver for their respective constituencies. Given established precedents the absence of any concession between the groups in furtherance of good governance indicates that either the National Assembly and executive do not understand negotiation and real politics, or they do not care that they have a responsibility to society/their constituents.

The growing concern among the masses is that while the executive seems to be intractable, the opposition is not leveraging the people’s power for the benefit of the people and society. For while the ordinary man and woman are subject to laws, regulating their behaviour and sanctioning those who violate them, our elected officials and their agents seem not to want to so hold themselves accountable under any law, for misappropriating our money (tax dollars) or acting in bad faith. In fact, a message is being sent to the public that the debates and excision were pure showmanship, a waste of time, and errant officials are being enabled by this, the law-making arm of government to break the laws.

The growing concern that the masses are being exposed to lies, deceit, laziness, intolerance and dominance by their elected representatives ought not to be ignored.

It is hoped the reported promise by the executive or agreement with the opposition to set up a Tripartite Budget Committee to attend to the 2014 Budget factors in that the constitution tasks the executive with the responsibility for Budget preparation. This is premised on the fact that in our system of government the executive has the permanency, personnel, data-gathering capacity and resources needed for budget preparation, as against the legislature that does not have similar structure, capability, permanency and resources. It is hoped that another constitutional infraction does not occur because good governance, inclusive governance or shared governance cannot be achieved by violating the foundational and supreme law that gives meaning to who we are as a people, the way we manage the nation’s business, and our engagement with each other.

More importantly, while historically the government reneges on agreements, the potential for another squabble is high because what is agreed upon is inconsistent with the constitution. And were said act to be made possible it requires the political will of the parties to address constitutional amendments to give effect to same.

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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