Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh on Wednesday agreed to a framework that would see the judiciary gaining full financial independence.
The minister’s decision came in response to a proposed motion by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to postpone the consideration of the 2014 budgetary estimates until the agencies specified under the Third Section of the Constitution were given their financial independence. Only when these agencies control their own finances, APNU MP Carl Greenidge had said, will they be able to dispense their responsibilities effectively.
In an effort to mitigate the postponement the consideration of the estimates, Singh on Wednesday said, “I will be moving at the appropriate time in the Committee of Supply a motion in relation to the estimates of the expenditure of the judiciary to bring those estimates in line with the estimates of the other entities listed in the Third Schedule and which entities already receive a lump sum proposed by government.” He noted that government, again recognising the stipulations of the Constitution, has already reflected budget allocations for the various rights commissions and the office of the Auditor General.
House Speaker Raphael Trotman noted on Wednesday that history had been made as the judiciary would now, in accordance with Singh’s promise, control its own affairs, financial and otherwise. Singh’s decision is a major development and a major deviation from the position government has taken in the past.
In 2012 the opposition parties tabled a motion – the Service Commissions Motion – aimed at moving four service commissions – the Judicial, Public, Teaching, and Police service commissions – towards financial independence, thereby allowing them to draw finances directly from the Consolidated Fund, as opposed to having their allocations provided through the budget by government.
The latter, Greenidge and Alliance for Change (AFC) MP Khemraj Ramjattan had said, compromises the independent functioning of the agencies.
The motion called on government to take steps to modify the Third Schedule specified by Article 222 (a) of the constitution, which does not include the service commissions among those institutions with financial autonomy. While Prime Minister Samuel Hinds said that government would not contest giving the commissions autonomy, he argued that there was nothing unlawful about leaving them as budget agencies. To attain what was being proposed by the opposition, he had said, would require constitutional reform.
And so the opposition attempted to amend the constitution.
Last year, APNU through Greenidge tabled the Constitution (Amend-ment) Bill 2013. The provision of the bill sought to make the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Judicial Service Commission, the Public Service Commis-sion, the Police Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission, Public Service Appellate Tribunal, the Public Procurement Commission, Office of the Ombudsman and the Guyana Elections Commission all financial independent and therefore autonomous. Although the bill was passed by the House, Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall said that a two-thirds vote, not a simple majority, was needed to amend the constitution, and he said he would advise the President to withhold his assent from the bill. As such, the provisions of neither the bill nor the motion were implemented.
On Wednesday, both Greenidge and Singh announced to the House that meetings between the various political parties of the National Assembly had seen progress. Greenidge said that Singh had indicated his willingness to grant the Judiciary the same financial autonomy as the other agencies under the Third Section, and Singh said he hoped his agreement would prompt the opposition to withdraw their motion, thereby avoiding the postponement of the consideration of the estimates.
Despite Singh’s announcement though, Nandlall is threatening litigation if APNU’s motion for the Finance Minister to reconsider and resubmit the estimates of the public sector is not deemed inadmissible
In a letter sent to Trotman yesterday, and seen by this newspaper, Nandlall makes the case that the motion would “cause the minister to embark upon a course of action which will, ineluctably, collide with Article 218 of the Constitution by requesting, at this late hour, that the minister withdraw and re-submit the estimates, the re-submission of which will manifestly be outside of the constitutionally mandated timeframe of ninety days from the beginning of the financial year.”
Nandlall also wrote: “In the circumstance, I respectfully request that you deem this motion inadmissible and accordingly, restrain its tabling. It is with profound regret that I inform you that if my request is not heeded, another bout of litigation shall be the consequence.”
The purpose of Nandlall’s letter in the light of Singh’s decision is uncertain.