Gov’t gets time to answer request for order to stop unapproved spending

The government has been given a week to respond to Opposition Leader David Granger’s application for an order to stop all spending not authorised by the National Assembly.

Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang granted leave for the filing of an affidavit in answer at a hearing yesterday on Granger’s application for a conservatory order to stay all spending or any further spending by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh or other ministers on programmes disapproved for budgetary allocations or not authorised by the National Assembly.

Singh, Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Speaker Raphael Trotman were named as the defendants in the court action, which was brought by Granger last Thursday.

Yesterday’s hearing was to address Granger’s application for a conservatory order pending the hearing and determination of the substantive action.

Attorney Basil Williams, who is part of Granger’s legal team, told Stabroek News yesterday that when the matter was called the Attorney General and Senior Counsel Ashton Chase entered appearances for the defendants from government. He said that following submissions by the attorneys, Chang granted seven days leave for the affidavit in answer to be file and a further five days for the plaintiff to file a response.

The matter will be called again on December 29.

Granger’s move to the court was the result of concerns by the opposition about government spending without any parliamentary scrutiny after President Donald Ramotar’s suspension of Parliament last month. With new elections due next year, the main opposition in particular has sounded concerns about the government misuse of funds for electioneering purposes.

Apart from the conservatory order, Granger is seeking a declaration by the court that the National Assembly lawfully disapproved programmes with allocations totaling $36,756,134,000 for 2014 and that Singh or other ministers designated by the President unlawfully spent or authorised the spending of monies on the programmes, to the tune of $4,553,761,991, for the period ending June 16, 2014.

In addition, he has asked for declarations that the purported spending by Singh or other ministers on the programmes was “unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, unreasonable” and in breach of the doctrine of the separation of powers, and that Singh or other ministers cannot lawfully spend or authorise the spending of monies on programmes that have been disapproved or not authorised by the National Assembly.

The action also asks for a declaration that the purported expenditure on the programmes that were disapproved by the National Assembly, cannot amount to a Statement of Excess within the meaning of Article 218 (3) (a) and (b) of the Constitution as well as an order that the classification of the spending under Statement of Excess is unlawful.

Justice Chang had ruled earlier this year that the National Assembly’s power is limited to either giving or withholding approval to the Finance Minister’s estimates of expenditure, but the government has maintained that the opposition’s disapproval of key allocations during the consideration of the estimates was unlawful. The administration has also been relying on Justice Chang’s previous interim ruling in the case to restore allocations that were cut by the opposition in the two previous years and disapproved this year.

It was the unauthorised spending by Singh that led the AFC to bring a no-confidence motion against the government for a debate and vote in the House, which forced Ramotar’s decision to suspend the Parliament on November 10.

 

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