May 07, 2013 - The Fiscal Management And Accountability (Amendment) Bill 20132716 07 May, 2013
May 07, 2013 - THE FISCAL MANAGEMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013
Minister of Finance [Dr. Singh]: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Clearly, with your customary foresight, you anticipated my intention to address this matter. Let me say that whilst I am disappointed that I do not have, in my possession, the document that you had so kindly offered to circulate during the break, I do not, in fact, need the document to bring to my own recollection a sufficient grasp of the facts on this matter. They are as follows…
Mr. Speaker: Before you proceed, Hon. Minister, I did indicate that we are not going to have a side debate on Auditor General’s reports. I know that you are anxious but I am cautioning that this Bill in no way addresses the frequency of submission of Auditor General’s reports so we have to be careful how far along that tangent we journey. I just thought I would raise that.
Dr. Singh: I would be guided accordingly, Sir. It is not my intention to dilate unduly on the matter but it did come up in the debate and it would be remiss of me…
Mr. Speaker: I did not encourage it when it came up. I did say I would circulate a document but I did not encourage a debate. That is the point I want to make.
Dr. Singh: It is equally not my intention to encourage a protracted debate on this matter. Let me simply say that it is a matter on which I have spoken before and the assertion that somehow or the other the facts on this matter were not clear and I think merit at least a brief clarification.
It has never been said that no audited accounts were tabled during Mr. Greenidge’s tenure. What has been said was that audited accounts…
Mr. Greenidge: This is precisely why I would like to embrace your… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I need to hear Mr. Greenidge. He is not even being given a chance to speak.
Mr. Greenidge: The assertion that it has never been said is completely untrue. It has been said and by the Minister…
Dr. Singh: Absolutely not!
Mr. Speaker: In fact, it was said as recently as this afternoon that no reports... I did then say that that is not so and I would be circulating a document. It has been said. Certainly the impression has gone abroad that whilst Mr. Greenidge was Minister of Finance, no audited reports of the public accounts of Guyana were ever submitted.
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, let me clarify what I have previously said on the matter. Mr. Greenidge served as Minister of Finance from October 1983 to October 1992. No audited accounts were submitted to this National Assembly either during Mr. Greenidge’s tenure or subsequent to his tenure in relation to fiscal years 1983 to 1992.
Mr. Speaker: On that I will say that I will await the documentation to be supplied by the Clerk and I urge you to move on.
Dr. Singh: Thank you, Sir. With your permission, I will make one final, brief comment on this matter. Any audited accounts tabled during Mr. Greenidge’s tenure related to his predecessor’s term in office.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Minister, as I said, I urge you to move on. Allow me to have the document tabled and then we can get back to that.
Dr. Singh: Thank you, Sir.
I rise now, more substantively, to make my contribution to the debate on the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Bill No.5/2013. Let me first of all, as I do so, respond to the last, most recent, contribution to this debate, that is to say the contribution made by my distinguished Friend and Colleague on that side of the House, Hon. Member Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, a man and scholar for whom I have immeasurable personal respect, and express some concerns, my respect and deference notwithstanding, at his interpretation of the events that led to the non-inclusion in article 164 of the Constitution, the entrenchment article as it is called, of certain newly inserted articles, 2001 inserted articles, including article 222A. Whilst without a doubt Dr. Roopnarine is correct in saying that the entrenchment clause includes some groups of constitutional articles…for example articles such as 90 to 96 inclusive enjoy entrenchment. So any article that falls between article 90 and article 96 will enjoy entrenchment automatically, whether it is 91 A, B, C, AA, BB or however styled. Article 222 indeed enjoys entrenchment subject to interpretation – and I know the Attorney General has offered an interpretation of whether article 222A is really an extension of article 222. But there is no explicit listing of article 222A and there is no explicit inclusion. In fact, like Dr. Rupert Roopnarine pointed out, no alteration was made to article 164.
I believe it is fair to say that whilst we would be in no position to speculate as to the intentions of those who were involved in the Constitution Reform Commission’s work, it would be fair to say that had this matter been considered and contemplated and had the intention been to exclude some of the newly enacted constitutional articles, had the intention been to exclude them from entrenchment, whether for want of avoidance of referendum or other reasons, at the very least, the minutes of the Constitution Reform Commission considering this matter and the official transcripts and records of proceedings of that Commission would so reflect. Indeed, Dr. Roopnarine served on that Commission as, indeed, a number of other Members who currently serve in this House.
I do not believe that any current Member of this House or indeed any person who served on the Constitution Reform Commission has been able to identify anywhere in the transcript of proceedings of this Constitution Reform Commission, in the summary minutes or in the detailed volumes of reports that were tabled in this National Assembly any contemplation of the matter of article 164 as it relates to addition, deletion or amendment to the list of entrenched articles, including the treatment of newly enacted constitutional articles. I would be happy to be corrected if I am wrong. I would be happy to have pointed out to this House and to the people of Guyana the appropriate reference in the record of proceedings to reflect that the Constitution Reform Commission and this National Assembly acted deliberately in not including in article 164 any of the newly enacted constitutional articles other than those that fell within the ranges that were captured.
Dr. Roopnarine, as I said, served on that Commission and I would be happy if he could point me in the appropriate reference in the record of proceedings that would reflect that this matter was deliberate and not accidental.
Dr. Roopnarine: I would like to, perhaps, offer a word of explanation as to how matters moved from the Constitution Reform Commission to the Select Committee of this House and from there to the Oversight Committee and from the conclusion… I think that you will find that the minutes to which you refer…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, what I suggest is that if you are going to give us the… I was going to suggest that after the Minister has spoken, I will give you an opportunity to take us through the process.
Mr. Nadir: Sir…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, we are in a debate.
Mr. Nadir: I know but on that particular point you made, a number of persons were on that and…
Mr. Speaker: I was also a Member of that.
Mr. Nadir: Many of us will have a different take on that.
Mr. Speaker: I believe that Dr. Roopnarine along with the former Speaker, Mr. Ramkarran, would be considered the foremost authorities on this matter. Many of us were Members of that constitution reform process but the time, the energy, the sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears that some Members put in, I do not think you can gainsay that. But I will allow Dr. Roopnarine to have… If another Member wishes, let us go. At the end of the day, it is all for edification of the Members who were not there.
Dr. Singh: Notwithstanding, Sir, my immeasurable respect for Dr. Roopnarine’s powers of recollection, I would appreciate a reference to the record of proceedings. I think most of Guyana would have great admiration for his powers of recollection but I think I would like to ask that this House or the people of Guyana be provided with the reference that says that the Commission and this House acted consciously and deliberately in not including the newly inserted constitutional articles in 2001. I think that would be helpful. Be that as it may, even if Dr. Roopnarine is able to trawl the archives and produce this reference, may I submit that the non-inclusion of article 222A and the Third Schedule in the entrenchment article of the Constitution, whilst on the surface it might create the right and circumstances under which article 222A and the third Schedule can be amended by a simple majority, all of that notwithstanding, the responsibility to consult and to endeavour to bring consensus as it relates to an amendment of the supreme law of our land is in no measure removed.
We live, today, in an era of consultation. One is expected to consult on everything... [Members: Yes.] ...and perhaps rightly and justifiably so. We have now a situation where even if, like I said, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine convinces us, in this House, that this House intended that 222A and the Third Schedule would be exempt from special entrenchment, the responsibility, the need, at least for a semblance of consultation... What we had with respect to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill as it relates to article 222A was a Bill brought by the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, that was seen for the first time that it was tabled in this House, that benefited from absolutely no consultation from anybody anywhere in Guyana, to the best of my knowledge...
Mr. Greenidge: On a Point of Order, I am questioning the accuracy of the Minister’s allegation. The discussion that he claimed did not take place...the Bill itself was preceded by two motions from which emerged two Resolutions pertaining to this particular matter. It is the fourth time we are discussing it.
Those were Resolutions that did not receive the benefit of support of, at least, 32 Members of this House. And, in fact, it might be recalled by some of us in this House that when this matter was raised in 2012 in the discussions which took place between the President and the Leader of the Opposition, around the time of Budget 2012, this, in fact, was an issue on the list of issues submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. During the course of those discussions, the constitutional implications of these matters were recognised and, in fact, it was said at that time that the matter should be referred to the Constitutional Reform Committee of this House which, in fact, is chaired by the distinguished Leader of the Opposition. It was said and not disputed – in my recollection, as a matter of fact, it was agreed - that this was a matter that had constitutional implications…
It was not agreed. Mr. Speaker, the Minister must not misreport events. It was not agreed. The Minister and his side – and I have the minutes – made a proposal which was never agreed to by the Opposition side. Therefore, it should not be reported that that was agreed. It was discussed.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, as you rightly pointed out, this is not new grounds that we are covering today. This is the fourth time. However, I do recall making a statement on previous occasions that one of the unfortunate features of that dialogue was the fact that we do not have any approved minutes and some of us who were not there do not know what was. We are entitled to different opinions but certainly I do get the impression that there was no agreement. That is my impression. One side may get the impression that there was agreement, but certainly it does not appear that there was agreement that this matter should be brought to the Constitutional Reform Committee.
Hon. Members, this pertains to a matter that took place within the four corners of the Office of the President. Most of us were not there. We can have an endless debate on what was said, agreed and not agreed.
Dr. Singh: I do not have a difficulty, Sir, with saying that it was certainly proposed. I do not recall a strident objection from the other side. I would not break a lance on that.
Mr. Ramjattan: I wish to make the point that my demand was that we video the meetings.
Mr. Speaker: That is a different matter.
Mr. Ramjattan: He was the one who said no.
Mr. Speaker: That is a different matter as to whether or not there was agreement on this issue of the referral of this matter to the Constitutional Reform Committee. The Minister said that he has no difficulty expressing the view that there was not strident – that is when Mr. Ramjattan got to his feet – objection.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, as you correctly pointed out, we have dealt with this matter before. On that occasion, it was in response to an assertion on the other side that there were minutes recording an agreement. You may recall that I had the opportunity to refer to minutes which were received from the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) side. A draft was prepared and presented by Ms. Teixeira to which a response was sent by A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) with an alternative wording and that alternative wording certainly did not support the position taken by the Minister so it could not be that there was the absence of strident opposition. There was no support for the proposal. There was an alternative formulation.
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to delay this House unduly on this matter. Suffice it to say that irrespective of what transpired at those meetings and what the different recollections are, what we have before us is an attempt to amend the Constitution that has not received the benefit of unanimous support in this House and that has not gone through the conventional process of consideration by the Constitutional Reform Committee and those are indisputable facts. There is no latitude for discretionary interpretation there.
We now have before us the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill which, in some respects, is connected to this previous Constitutional (Amendment) Bill which came before the House. The Attorney General has already spoken to the fact that that Bill endeavoured to remove from the schedule of budget agencies certain aspects. This Bill now seeks to assign to these constitutional agencies a special and newly defined treatment for the purposes of determination of their budgets.
I wish to focus my brief remarks on one particular matter. Setting aside the obvious inconsistencies with the Constitution that the Attorney General has so eloquently elaborated on, what we have here, taken together with the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, is an attempt to fundamentally alter the roles and responsibilities of the various branches of Government and, in particular, the Executive and the Legislature, as it relates to fiscal and financial responsibilities. This is not merely removal of a few entities from a schedule. This is not merely defining a new budget process. The Attorney General said it and he said it well: how do you hold one responsible for a matter over which one has no authority? And that is the essence of what we are dealing with here today. Traditionally, our system of Government has assigned to the Executive, responsibility for managing the economy, responsibility for achieving certain fiscal outcomes, responsibility for managing the expenditures of Government and, indeed, responsibility for the consequences of non-achievement of the objectives set out in successive annual budget proposals. That goes to the core of our constitutional architecture as it relates to financial management. Article 171, for example, defines very clearly that a number of matters cannot even be brought before this House unless they have received the prior imprimatur of the Executive acting through the Cabinet, a matter this House is now abundantly acquainted with because it has been the subject of so many debates in recent times. The fact of the matter is that our Constitution resides exclusively within the responsibility of the Executive certain fiscal and financial matters.
If we were to examine what this Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill seeks to do, it is to remove entirely from the purview of the Executive any role whatsoever in the determination of the budgets of these entities and they are significant consumers of public resources, significant agencies as they relate to the size of their annual budgets. To remove these entities from the process of determination of the annual Budget, which incidentally the Constitution recognised in article 222A… It would be recalled, for example, that article 222A clearly states that these constitutional commissions’ budgets shall be brought before the House and approved by the National Assembly after a review and approval of the entity’s annual budget as part of the process of the determination of the National Budget.
We must not ignore the second part. Mr. Greenidge wants to ignore the second part and to focus solely on the first part. The second half of article 222A (a) states clearly:
“...after review and approval of the entity’s annual budget as part of the process of determination of the national budget.”
That is what the same article 222A states. And so the architects and framers of article 222A clearly recognised the need for the budgets of these entities be part of the process of determination of the national budget. In fact, were they not to be, such a fundamental alteration to the responsibilities of the Executive would be perpetrated that we would have to revisit not only the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, but a wide range of other pieces of legislation. What do I mean by this? Public entities are funded from public resources; they are funded from the Consolidated Fund. The Consolidated Fund is a fund that is financed by tax revenues and other revenues, the proceeds of loans and grants received by Guyana and the proceeds of borrowings by Guyana. There are quantitative limits on the borrowings that can be contracted by Guyana which have been imposed by this National Assembly. There are, for example, the Public Loan and Treasury Bills Act, the External Loans Act and the General Loans (International Bank) Act, all of which impose quantitative limits, how much can be borrowed, and under what circumstances funds can be borrowed by the Treasury to finance the operations of public entities. It is for that reason that the Budget is determined as a whole - revenues, loans, grants, expenditure of all public entities.
One cannot remove an entity that is intended to be funded by the Consolidated Fund which financing potentially will influence the overall public sector benefit, which financing, in turn, will influence borrowing by Government to finance the operations of Government and operations of the private sector, from the process of determination of the annual Budget and in an unfettered manner ascribe to them or assign to them a budgetary process that is completely removed from these other constraints. Recall of course, Sir, that notwithstanding the budgets of these entities come through the Executive, the ultimate determination is made in this House. Recall, Sir, that the vote is finally taken in this House for each of these entities. That is a fact. Were we to remove from the Executive absolutely any role, who will be held responsible for the non-attainment of an overall fiscal outcome? Surely, the Executive could not be held responsible for the non-attainment of the fiscal deficit target if there is a whole range of public entities funded by public resources but whose expenditure will be subject to no limit determined or influenced, in any way whatsoever, by an Executive input in the Budget process. The Executive could not be held remotely responsible either for the achievement of a fiscal deficit outcome or a violation of the borrowing limits.
What would one say? Would one say to one of these constitutional entities notwithstanding the National Assembly approved your budget without any Executive input, and notwithstanding if you spend a dollar more you will violate one of the borrowing limits of the public sector... Who then takes on the responsibility of saying stop spending? The fact of the matter is that this matter is not a trivial matter and the emotional arguments about the independence of these entities, very emotive arguments with popular appeal, one understands them. But a matter such as this cannot be trivialised. What we are endeavouring to do…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, you are right. I have been asking over the last few months...certainly and surely there are good examples elsewhere where their independence and autonomy had been vested in certain constitutional offices. So it has to be that other countries have successfully navigated through what we are trying to do. Yes, there is emotion but certainly that emotion has been matched with good reality, good experiences and good practice somewhere. That is something I have raised before.
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, it would be recalled that the Attorney General, on a previous occasion when this matter was discussed, I believe it was when the Constitution (Amendment) Bill was being considered, said that let the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, produce for the benefit of this House one example of relevant legislation from any other jurisdiction with a similar constitutional structure as ours. I believe the words that he used were “and I will sit down immediately”. To date, I do not believe Mr. Greenidge has produced that example. [Mr. Greenidge: I have no obligation.] Mr. Greenidge said he has no obligation. Perhaps he is of the view that he could bring a Bill like this that oversimplifies the matter – setting aside the obvious flaws the Attorney General so acutely and articulately identified. [Mr. Greenidge: I do not have to respond to the Attorney General.] Perhaps Mr. Greenidge believes he has no responsibility. He said he has no obligation to produce an example. He said he does not have to respond to the Attorney General. Perhaps he enjoys that luxury. But we answer to the people of Guyana and this Executive will find itself in the invidious position of playing absolutely no role in the determination of the budgets of entities that will constitute a call on the public Treasury and, unless this Parliament simultaneously removes from the Executive responsibility and accountability for the inevitable fiscal outcomes, this is an oversimplification of this matter. [Mr. Nandlall: It is a manifest wrong.] Indeed, as the Attorney General said, it is a manifest wrong.
What is being endeavoured here is a fundamental rewrite of the roles of the Executive and the Legislature, a fundamental rewrite of responsibilities as they relate to fiscal outcomes, a fundamental rewrite of responsibility for fiscal borrowing and financing fiscal deficits. Article 222A stated very clearly:
“...as part of the process of determination of the national budget...”
We cannot forget that. That is in the Constitution. The framers, including the famous Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, presiding over this new constitutional article, clearly anticipated this dilemma that one cannot remove arbitrarily from the Executive a part of the public sector and say you will play no role in deciding how much money these people will spend but you will still be responsible for the overall fiscal outcome of the country. This is not rocket science or brain surgery; this is plain and simple logic. You cannot hold the Executive responsible for fiscal outcomes of the overall public sector if you will remove the Executive from playing any role as it relates to the budgets of a subset of the public sector – plain and simple. No matter how much you twist and turn it, it is plain and simple.
I wish to say, Mr. Speaker, that in addition to the constitutional and legal grounds identified by the Attorney General and by those who have spoken before me, that there is yet time. We have not taken the vote as yet. I do not know if Mr. Greenidge is contemplating the withdrawal of his Bill but if he is not I would urge him so to do. A matter as fundamental as this cannot be reduced and simplified in the manner that this Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill endeavours to do.
Mr. Greenidge, I do not, at this stage, necessarily urge my colleagues to vote against the Bill. I am hoping that we do not get to that point. I am hoping that Mr. Greenidge recognises the obvious demerits and flaws of this Bill and does the honourable thing and withdraws this Bill from this House this evening.
Thank you very much, Sir. [Applause]
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