Speaker to rule shortly on bid to refer Finance Minister to Privileges Committee

House Speaker Raphael Trotman says before the month is out he will decide whether Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh will be referred to the Privileges Committee of Parliament over billions of dollars in spending that has incensed the opposition.

Up to yesterday afternoon Trotman was studying a motion brought during the last sitting by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP Carl Greenidge to have Singh referred to the committee again. Greenidge is arguing that Singh’s decision to authorize expenditure amounting to $4.55 billion, which was part of the larger sum cut from this year’s budget, is illegal.

The Privileges Committee bid is part of a raft of measures that the joint opposition is pursuing against the government over the controversial spending.

When the motion was brought two Thursday ago, Trotman told the house that it was received late and that while he had looked at it to some extent the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, had not.

He therefore asked for time so that Isaacs could familiarize himself with the document and be satisfied that it complied with the required procedures. Isaacs told Stabroek News yesterday that he has reviewed the document and that he has forwarded his findings to the Speaker who will ultimately make the decision.

When this newspaper contacted Trotman yesterday afternoon he said that he recently returned from performing duties overseas and is now scrutinizing the matter again in order to arrive at a decision. He said that the issue is the first he has addressed since returning to Guyana on Monday night.

While he does not know when he will make his decision known he expects to do so before the month is out. The Standing Orders (SOs) of the National Assembly require the Speaker to satisfy himself that there is a prima facie case before he decides to refer the case to the Privileges Committee. Trotman says that once this is done the committee will determine if Singh is guilty of the charges levelled at him by Greenidge.

 

Singh’s “illegal” spending

Greenidge is arguing that the spending detailed in Financial Paper 1 of 2014, laid in the National Assembly earlier this month, is illegal and that Singh, who authorized the spending, needs to be disciplined. Singh on the other hand has held that a ruling by Chief Justice (CJ) Ian Chang and the provisions of Article 218 (3) of the Constitution justify the expenditure.

Many of his critics though, including analysts Christopher Ram and Anand Goolsarran have argued that Singh is clutching at straws in trying to justify his actions with Article 218 (3) of the constitution. Further, they have argued, separately, that the minister’s actions violate the Constitution as well as the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.

Singh has also been referred to the privileges committee for allegedly failing to turn over funds from varying accounts into the Consolidated Fund as was requested of him. The committee however, is yet to undertake any substantial work with regard to the matter. Yesterday, Trotman declined to comment on the speed, or lack thereof, with which the committee has been working.

Singh’s spending has also triggered other actions. AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan has reported him to the Guyana Police Force on the grounds that he has violated Sections 48 and 85 of the FMA Act.

Section 48 says: “A Minister or official shall not in any manner misuse, or improperly dispose of public monies,” while Section 85 says: “An official who knowingly permits any other person to contravene any provision of this Act is guilty of an indictable offence and liable on conviction to a fine of $2,000,000 and imprisonment for 3 years.” The spending of $4.55 billion after it was refused by the National Assembly, Ramjattan told the Force, may constitute a breach of the aforementioned.

The AFC has also, in definitive language, said a no-confidence motion against government is imminent. The party will, however, require the support of APNU to get the motion passed and the coalition is yet to say whether it intends to give its support when the motion is brought. Observers have said the coalition is likely to make up its mind after the PNCR’s congress this weekend. The PNCR is its main constituent.

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