Finance Minister to face privileges committee

-over non-compliance with National Assembly resolution

Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh has been referred to the Privileges Committee of Parliament for matters surrounding his failure to comply with a parliamentary resolution that required him to provide reports on extra-budgetary agencies and to pay all monies being held by such agencies into the Consolidated Fund.

During yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly, House Speaker Raphael Trotman announced that the action was in keeping with a motion brought last year by APNU MP Carl Greenidge. The motion called for the minister to be referred to the committee for disregarding decisions made by the Assembly and a determination of sanctions to be taken against him.

Specifically, the complaint accused Singh of refusing to comply with “Resolution 15 that was passed by the House on the 27th June 2012, and which required the Hon Minister to lay a report in the National Assembly on all Extra-Budgetary agencies including the Guyana Development (Lotto) fund and GGMC, and further, to pay all monies being held by these agencies into the Consolidated Fund.”

Greenidge also complained that Singh authorised the release of $217,194,998 for the National Communications Network (NCN) and the Government Information Agency (GINA) last year, although the National Assembly had indicated that both agencies must do “certain things” before any further subsidies would be approved.

Greenidge said that Singh’s action exhibited his “flagrant disregard” of the National Assembly’s decision, and therefore called for him to be referred to the Privileges Committee in accordance with Standing Order 32 on both matters.

On Singh’s failure to comply with Resolution 15, Trotman found that in the absence of any reasonable explanation from the minister, “a prima facie case has been made out,” and for which he would have to face the Privileges Committee.

He was careful to point out though, that a referral to the Privileges Committee is not indicative of a finding of wrongdoing or guilt on the part of the Minister.

However, as it relates to Singh’s decision to release funds to NCN and GINA, the Speaker has found that there are “insufficient facts to support the contention that the National Assembly issued a legitimate instruction or command to the Honourable Minister of Finance regarding the release of monies to NCN and GINA, and further, and more importantly, that that instruction or command was disobeyed.” Without evidence showing that an instruction or command was given, he continued, a prima facie case cannot be made.

It seems that the lack of evidence hinges, at least partially, on the ambiguous nature with which the complaint was made by Greenidge. In his motion to have Singh referred to the Privileges Committee, the Shadow Finance Minister makes reference to Singh being required to do “certain things” before money is withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund. Trotman is of the opinion that determining the meaning of the words “certain things” was crucial to concluding if a legitimate instruction or a command was given to Singh by the National Assembly.

Pursuant to his position, Trotman said he wrote Greenidge asking for clarification on the meaning of word “certain things,” but got no response.

He said that he was therefore left to apply meaning and effect to the words, and lamented that do so was both an “unwanted” and “dangerous” eventuality.

Ultimately, Trotman found that there are “insufficient facts to support the contention that the National Assembly issued a legitimate instruction or command,” and so a prima facie case cannot be made.

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