The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 20133207 14 Feb, 2013
Mr. Nadir: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me join in those earlier wishes which were conveyed by the Clerk on your behalf to the ladies in the House for a happy Valentine’s Day.
What we had just seen, first with the Constitution (Amendment) Bill and now with this amendment to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, is what I consider the Opposition seeing ghosts and bogeys where none exist and tinkering with sacred traditions that have been set out over centuries based on positions of rationalism and pragmatism – a word you just used. It is not that Governments are allowed to present budgets and have… I should not say “Governments” but the ‘executive’ which should present budgets and have exclusivity where budget and money matters are concerned alone. It is because we need that in order to ensure that where the execution of the policies of the executive of the day is concerned, and for the good order and development of a country, the management of the purse is the sacred preserve. In order to preserve this unity, the focus of direction and not distraction one needs the executive at the helm.
The amendment that we just had, by itself, is innocuous – neither here nor there – but here we have, with the amendment here the devil in the details. One has to listen very carefully to the Hon. Member that last spoke because many times he says the intension of the Bills and the motions that he proposes, when he would make a presentation, is one thing but the written word that he is moving is another. I mentioned this because when we looked at the President’s pension there were some glaring examples that necessitated amendments. For example there is the issue of a person being convicted before they could be stripped of power and not charged. When one looks at that while he said one thing he totally ignored such amendments. Hence, when he was making the presentation, though brief, he made a significant statement and that is with respect to Clause 4 of the Bill and he said that the Finance Minister will still have the powers to give directions the budget agencies on amounts and so forth; he said so. That is not in the law. If I am the head of a budget agency with these powers, and the Finance Minister comes to me saying “You shall prepare a budget within these guidelines” I will say to him “The guidelines I will use is what will give me the resources to do an effective job for the nation”. Hence this Clause 4 of this Bill reduces the Finance Minister to the level of a consultant and discussion only on the format.
Though I am not a linguist nor am I a lawyer and I may not understand English as well as most people but for me format means the structure in which you put the budget, not the content of these line items. When one listens to the Hon. Carl Greenidge pontificate that we are going to have the Finance Minster giving guidelines which shall be observed is, I think, for from reality because when giving examples in terms of the deficiencies of Bill and motions which he had brought as have been put to him there has been no amendment.
I want to go back to this issue of the sanctity of budget matters and the preserve of the executive when it comes to financial matters. We come from this Westminster tradition… [Interruption] Thanks for the promotion. …this Westminster system and in 1709 the House of Commons and the executive had this similar confrontation and so as far back as 1713, the Standing Orders in Britain were written to ensure that the executive has the preserve over presenting budgets.
Today the literature will tell you that it is almost universal that the presentation of budget and finance issues are the sole preserve of the executive and over the past 50 years some countries have been tinkering with this. Some countries have been tinkering with it over the past 50 years. For example, France’s third republic that ran, I think, from 1870 to 1940. In that republic, the National Assembly in France had the power to put together the budget. That third republic ended in chaos because it was summarised as the irresponsible spending of moneys, which almost caused the collapse. In this fifth republic in France here again it is reverted back to the executive in terms of the preparation of budgets; the executive.
Mr. Speaker, you asked a question of the person who spoke before me and said, “Give me examples where this occurs where an agency an entity within Guyana has the preserve of presenting a budget, sending it to the Clerk and it must be included in the National Budge”. None exists; not even the Public Accounts Committee. The Public Accounts Committee will approve a submission that goes to the Finance Minister. The Finance Minister includes that and take that to the Cabinet. Universally, around the world, the preparation of budget is done by the Finance Minister or the President or the Cabinet as a whole and every time our Finance Minister stands here on any matter of money he will say, according to “so and so” I signify that Cabinet has given approval. We are going to have to change a host of laws to say “the Clerk of the National Assembly”. I want to warn the issue of this irresponsible nature of money and also the issue of the management of that money is of concern and must be of concern to the executive. I also want to say that while the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, could not give one instant he spoke of de facto but there is no agency that goes through this process in our country, none! You speak of de facto but even in the de facto there is a process but he is prone to making statements here that are far withdrawn from reality and he made two of them; far from reality.
He said that sitting judge upon retirement did not get his benefits from this Government. I want him to name that was retired that did not get the benefits and I will resign. A person who acts in a position and does not go through the process of confirmation is not necessarily entitled to all of the benefits according to our laws.
He also made another statement that the Former Attorney General, Mr. Doonauth Singh, also did not get his money, implying that this Government, via some process of victimisation or vexation at the Former Attorney General did not want to pay him his money. Every single Public Servant, as a matter of policy, who retires has to do a statement of affairs and make certain clearances, their income tax and any liability that they have, to the Consolidated Fund. All of us have to do that. As far as I understand it, my good friend, the Former Attorney General, probably did not want to go through the long drawn out process and it is a long drawn out process so he correctly challenged the policy which is not necessarily the law. That is why when we came to the President’s benefits; while the Government was giving Mrs. Hoyte and Mr. Hoyte and Former Presidents and their spouses certain provisions we ended up having to come here to codify them in the law because, if challenged, the policy will have to be thrown out of the window. That is why we had to come back and codify them in the law.
Again, I find departure from what is de jure rather than de facto because we have to govern also by the laws. He also went on to use another example which, again, he is ill informed about and I am surprised, very surprised, because he said that the United States Supreme Court sends its budget to the Congress and then he backtracked and said “via the President”. Let me tell him something. It still exists under the statutes in America that Congress has the preserve over the budget and taxation. Congress still has the preserve over expenditure and taxation but in 1921, because government has become so complex, do you know what Congress did? They had a congressional committee that dealt with the budget but it became onerous on the Congress and in 1921 the Congress deferred to the executive, the President, to send a budget to Congress.
I did not say that the Supreme Court or the special commissions that deal with humanity and treating people in a humane way will send their budgets directly to the Congress. Congress in itself, noting the wisdom of having the executive which had a mandate from the people to prepare and present a budget for approval… The issue of budgets being cut by the National Assembly I think has been dealt with and I know that the Attorney General is coming, so to speak, on that.
What this amendment to the FMAA does is make radical departures from a time-tested principle that the executive is best placed to deal with budgetary and money matters.
I sat here and listened to all of the learned people argue over Article 222 (a) of the Constitution… [Mr. B. Williams: …and you did not understand.] Yes. [Mr. Ramjattan: Lord Denning] A great man and M’Naghten too. Most of the Opposition Members that spoke to 222 neglected the last part of that paragraph and the last part of that paragraph that deals with the agencies under Schedule 3 speaks to the issue of the National Budget Process. There is only one National Budget Process and that is that process coordinated by the Minister of Finance; only one. That is that process coordinated by the Hon. Minister of Finance.
Everyone understands this issue of guarding against interference of certain agencies that ought to exercise their independence. Government is based on the three arms of the state –this here, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – and there are some constitutional office holders that support oversight and we also what those to have independence. I have not seen the literature as yet that money has a direct correlation to influence. Do you know what has a direct correlation to influence? They are people’s upbringing and their commitment to decency and doing the right things; being professional. If there were proven cases that there was interference by the executive or by the legislature in the judiciary and in some of these agencies and as widespread as under previous regimes that the former speaker to this motion had, one would be very concerned. There is not instance and the one case were we have an elongated process of approving a budget of a constitutional agency, the Audit Office, we are still, in spite of some sections of our society who are trying to say that there is undue influence being exerted, we are still to hear of people complaining.
That is why there is a sacred convention when it comes to budgets and in our Westminster system when a budget fails governments do the right thing and resign because that is the ultimate test – the will of the people. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you have been very encouraged to get us to sit down and talk about how we can execute our duties to the nation in a responsible way where we have a minority Government. I have heard you over the past 13 months talk to this issue and have seen several proposals and making some that we expose ourselves to some of these things. The one that you have been talking to was the Canadian experience and we saw what happened eventually after two minority Governments, by Mr. Steven Harper, Prime Minister. The issue of money matters… I remember being in Canada at one time when Prime Minister Trudeau presented a budget and there was an indication that the Senate at that time was sounding some worries that they would not pass the budget and as was done in England the process was intimidated that they would bypass the Senate and leave budget matters directly to the executive and the legislature.
This issue of the FMAA amendments that we have before us seeks to put these agencies outside of a national process of preparation of budgets and the managing of our finances that have been tested by time and by man and so far what we have extant here in our country has proven to be the best. We are fiddling, if we continue to approve amendments like these, not only with the constitutional issues, but we are going to be fiddling with the financial architecture of the nation that can lead us to confusion and chaos. Apparently some of us in the National Assembly are not aware of that. If they are aware of that I say that they are guilty of taking this country down a road that we are never going to recover from.
These sound principles that have been tested reinforce my commitment and my resolve that this Bill should not go forward in the National Assembly and, ever further, should not be part of a parliamentary approval process. Thank you very much.
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