Contrary to what Nandlall says the Supreme Court now has greater financial autonomy than at any period in its history

Dear Editor,

On April 1, 2017, you carried a letter in your column from former Attorney General Anil Nandlall captioned, ‘The judiciary is under siege’ in which he accuses the Minister of Finance of cutting the judiciary’s budget.

Editor, when a former Attorney General, who is trained to determine fact from opinion, appears willing to put pen to paper to document factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated opinions as if they were evidence-based facts, one no longer has to wonder about his motivation and agenda.

I should like to remind Mr Nandlall and the wider public of the following. On August 5th, 2015 President David Granger, assented to the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act (FMAA) 2015, Act No 4 of 2015 which bestowed upon the Supreme Court of Judicature a higher degree of financial autonomy than at any other period in its history.

Within the Act, Section 3 (b) 80B (8) states that “the appropriation of a Constitutional Agency approved by the National Assembly shall be disbursed as a lump sum by the end of the month, following the month in which the appropriation is approved”. To this end a new chart of account 6323 was created to facilitate the new categorisation of expenditure allocations and enable ease of tracking of allocations for Constitutional Agencies. Further, a new table was added to the Budget Estimates, namely Details of Constitutional Bodies to provide additional information to the National Assembly and the public.

In paragraph 3, sentence 2 of the letter from the former AG; he states that “The judiciary is financed from a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund and therefore its financing does not require parliamentary approval”. This is both dangerously misleading and factually incorrect, since according to Act No. 4 of 2015 FMAA (Amendment, 2015), Section 3 (b) 80B (7), “The annual budget of a Constitutional Agency approved by the National Assembly shall not be altered without the prior approval of the National Assembly”. Hence parliamentary approval is required both initially and for any alteration.  Further, having a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund cannot be equated to unchallenged and unfettered budgets.

He further states in paragraph 3, that “Prior to 2015, the judiciary’s budget was presented by the Attorney General to the National Assembly. This Budget was prepared exclusively by the judiciary in consultation with the Ministry of Finance. Though the final product was presented by the Attorney General to the National Assembly, the AG would have no input whatsoever into that Budget.” As a Budget Agency, the Supreme Court would have produced their budget and submitted it to the Ministry of Finance, which was then discussed and reviewed, and then a recommendation is made to Cabinet and upon Cabinet’s approval, presented to the National Assembly.

However, as a constitutional agency under the amended FMAA, the process changed whereby the original budget submissions were shared with National Assembly and the Ministry of Finance. Section 3 (b) 80B (1) states that “The public officer responsible for managing the affairs of an Agency or such other person designated by the appropriate authority for that purpose, shall submit budget proposals to the Clerk of the National Assembly (copied to the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister of Finance) who shall ensure that those proposals are submitted as presented…”

Mr Nandlall further suggests that “The process now is for the judiciary to submit its budget to the Clerk of the National Assembly and for the first time the judiciary’s budget has been cut by the Minister of Finance on the floor of the National Assembly”.  This must be deliberately erroneous since everyone who has been part of implementing the FMAA would be aware that prior to August 2015 constitutional bodies, like Budget Agencies, would have submitted proposals and the final recommended number as approved by Cabinet (of which Mr Nandlall was a member under the previous administration) would be presented to the National Assembly. The Ministry of Finance records show that the Supreme Court proposal was reduced in previous years. A quick perusal of years 2013 and 2014 offer examples. In 2013 the Supreme Court requested $1.5 billion and received $1.27 billion, while in 2014 a request for $1.53 billion was reduced to $1.4 billion. Under the amended legislation “The Minister of Finance shall submit to the National Assembly the Minister’s comments on the annual budget of a Constitutional Agency, including recommendations in sufficient time to enable consideration by the Assembly and those recommendations shall be limited to the overall request rather than line items.”

Editor, I would like to remind readers that it would be foolhardy to think that any agency seeking funding from the Treasury, could just submit a budget to the Minister of Finance and expect it to be approved in the National Assembly unaltered. If that were possible, then we would not go through the painstaking exercise that attends the annual national budget.

In reality, as is the global norm, the recommended budget by any government, is circumscribed by the available fiscal space guided by the national deficit and debt sustainability targets.

What obtains now, therefore, is a more transparent system where both the request made and the proposed recommendation are shared with the National Assembly, and it is the National Assembly not the Minister of Finance which approves the final allocation to Constitutional Agencies, and has the power to vary these proposals up or down before approval.

Given the facts above, it is rather unfortunate that Mr Nandlall continues to peddle untruths about matters that are largely outside of his remit. It is doubly unfortunate that he finds willing outlets to perpetrate these untruths on an unsuspecting nation.

Yours faithfully,

Winston Jordan

Minister of Finance

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