The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 20133076 10 Jan, 2013
Dr. Singh: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I rise to speak on the Bill currently before us, the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2012, Bill No. 24 of 2012. In doing so, I feel an overwhelming sense of deja vu, having already made a number of arguments on a previous occasion; that occasion being the consideration of the motion to grant leave for this Bill to come before this Hon. House.
I will very briefly revisit just a few of those arguments and then make a few other observations. Let me say first of all, Mr. Speaker, that you made an extremely important intervention yourself from your Chair, in your attempt to introduce some balance and objectivity and perhaps even sanity, in the presentations made by the Opposition, when you reminded this House that the current arrangements as they relate to the financing of some of these entities, have really been in place since time immemorial.
What it means is that the attempt by the Opposition to conjure this imagined conspiracy reveals the real intent behind this Bill. That is to create somehow the image or mirage of some storm or hiccups, some conspiracy, some attempt, some conspiracy theory where in fact one does not exist.
Mr. Williams, the Hon. Member and indeed Mr. Greenidge before him sought to suggest that somehow the inclusion of these entities in the Schedule to the FMAA reflected some adverse intent on the part of this Hon. House acting in 2003. The fact of the matter is that if you examine the deliberations on the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003, no such concerns were expressed on any side of the House. In fact, the Bill attracted extremely positive comments, from amongst others, the lead spokesperson on economy and finance, on that side of the House, the records reflects this. At the time persons speaking on both sides of the House recognised the immeasurable merit of this Fiscal Management and Accountability Act; recognised the vast contribution that that Act would make to modernising the legislative architecture that govern the management of our public finances and recognise in fact, that this Bill at the time, which is now the principle Act, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, the House recognised that this, read together with the Constitutional amendments of 2001, read together with the Procurement Act of 2003 and read together with the Audit Bill that was soon to become an Act, just a few months thereafter, would constitute an extremely strong framework for management accountability and transparency of public finances.
These were not one off isolated ventures of the Parliament. There was a systematic, well coordinated, carefully crafted endeavour to modernise the architecture governing the management of public finances. They were in the first instance significant amendments to the Constitution. The 2001 amendments, which among other things enhanced the independence of the Auditor General’s Office by removing the obligation of that office to report to this House through the Minister of Finance and empowering that office to report directly to the National Assembly through the Speaker, by expanding the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee, including by giving it responsibility for exercising general oversight over the Audit Office. By establishing the Standing Sectoral Committees, which would discharge important Constitutional obligations as it relates to oversight of Government operations; Economic Services Committees, Social Services Committees, Natural Resources Committees, Foreign Relations Committees and of course, subsequently security would be added.
Following the 2001 amendments, we returned to Parliament, first with modern procurement legislation in 2003, a modern Act for the management of public finances, what is called in the industry an organic budget law, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and an Audit Act early in 2004. Throughout all of this, the House acting in unison recognised the merits of these interventions. It is rather unfortunate that purely for the purposes of political titillation that Members on that side of the House; the other side of the House, would now conjure ghost and fairies, where they do not exist. Rather unfortunate Sir; unfaithful to the facts of history and reeking of political opportunism.
I argued at the time that the motion came to this House that this Bill is so fundamentally flawed that at the very least it should be returned for editing, at the very least. It should have benefited from careful editing. As a matter of fact, you could not possibly, seriously bring before this House, a Bill to remove from a Schedule, entities that are not in the Schedule in the first instance. That is what this Bill seeks to do. This Bill lists entities that it purports that it is purporting to remove from the Schedule to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, that are not listed in the Schedule to that Act. I made that observation.
The Judicial Service Commission is not listed as a budget agency, but this bill seeks to remove the Judicial Service Commission from the schedule to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act when it is not there in the first instance and that is a matter of fact. At the very least, the mover of this bill should have recognised those fundamental flaws and should have ensured that the bill represented at least a properly edited...
I will go further and I will say that if the intent was to give some substance to Article 222 A of the Constitution, and in particular the third schedule, then once again this bill will come up very short. This bill, in fact, once again, is riddled with inadequacies. For example, the bill rather conveniently ignores a number of entities that are listed in the third schedule to the Constitution. The bill, for example, makes absolutely no mention of the Ethnic Relations Commission, it makes no mention of the Human Rights Commission, it makes no mention of the Women and Gender Equality Commission. It completely ignores those entities but what is more it addresses entities that are not currently the subject of the third schedule. It includes entities that are not currently the subject of the third schedule. If the intension was to give substance to the third schedule then in that case, at the very least, this bill should have been faithful to the list of entities identified in the third schedule but that was not done; that was not done. Instead we now hear of an intension to amend Article 222 A of the Constitution and in fact we now hear an interpretation of the Constitution that seeks to suggest that Article 222 A can be amended by a simple majority. The reference that is being cited is Article 164 of the Constitution... [Mr. Greenidge: I did not cite it.] Not by you; Mr. Williams did. You are not the only speaker. Contrary to what you might believe, Mr. Greenidge, you are not the only speaker and I apologise on your behalf to Mr. Williams for your ignoring of his speech. As was cited by the Hon. Member, Mr. Basil Williams - and I did pay, unlike his colleagues on that side of the House, keen attention to his speech... Mr. Williams made reference to Article 164 of the Constitution. That Article identifies a number of other Articles of the Constitution that require a two-third majority for enactment. What is significant is that while Article 222 is listed, Article 222 A is not but more importantly, if one examines all or at least a large number of the insertions of the 2001 constitutional amendments – “a large number” because in the space of time afforded me here been able to verify all... A number of the insertions - certainly all of them that have a letter appended to them... The 2001 constitutional amendments inserted a number of articles but because of the avoidance of the need to renumber the constitutional articles a number of them had letters appended to the number so, for example, Article 128 A, dealing with appointment of part-time judges, Article 149 A dealing with the right to work, Article 154 A dealing with the protection of human rights, Article 161 A dealing with appointment of staff of the Elections Commission. All of these newly inserted articles that have this new numbering scheme with a letter appended to them to avoid renumbering of subsequent articles... None of them appear in Article 164. Hence, at the very least I would suggest that it be somewhat simplistic simply to look at the printed text of Article 164, ignoring the intensions of the framers of the constitutional amendments. Surely, the intension could never have been that all of these newly inserted constitutional articles can now be amended by way of simple majority, including protection of human rights, including protection of our fundamental rights. Surely we have in this honourable House Members who served on that...
Mr. Speaker: Members, could I hear the Minister of Finance, please? It seems like a free-for-all has broken out. We all have our own interpretations about Article 164; I have my own but I will not, at this point in time, state my own opinions on Article 164.
Dr. Singh: Thank you very much, Sir. In any case I make the point that surely, in reading Article 164, it would appear perfectly obvious that the intension could never have been to exclude from the requirement of a two-third majority all of the insertions of the 2001 amendments.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, are we to allow the Minister to speak or do you want to engage him in conversation, in a dialogue? When Members of the Opposition spoke, there was not that exchange.
Dr. Singh: I listened attentively, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: I am asking that we listen. Whether you agree or disagree allow him, please, to continue and conclude.
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, the bill and, in particular, the arguments made by my colleagues on that side of the House in favour of the bill seem to suggest that the removal from the schedule of Fiscal Management and Accountability Act will somehow vest in the entities identified some - I hesitate to use the word “autonomy” and not the word “exclusion” - entitlements to be completely exempt; 'exempt' is the word. ...will somehow vest in these entities a right of an exemption from the budgetary process, an exemption from proper consideration and deliberation of their budgets, an exemption from approval of their budgets in this honourable House. Somehow the assertion is that if these entities are removed from the schedule they would not be subject to budgetary control and budgetary oversight but that, in fact, is a conclusion that could only be arrived at by a selective reference to the very Article 222 A that is being used as the basis for the Opposition's arguments. In fact, if one reads Article 222 A beyond the reference to the annual subvention one would see that the Constitution is very clear. The Constitution says that these entities budgets shall be 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.This is the Constitution clearly saying that these entities shall be subject to review and approval of the entity's annual budget as part of the process of determination of the National Budget.
The article goes on in Paragraph (b)to say:
"Each entity shall manage its subvention in such manner as it deems fit... subject only [This is important, Sir] to conformity to the financial practices and procedures approved by the National Assembly to ensure accountability [which is the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act]"
The Constitution having clearly recognised the role of the National Assembly in enacting appropriate financial procedures and practices, the National Assembly subsequently acted and brought into laws the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. In fact that same Article 222 goes on in Paragraph (c) to say that the terms and conditions applicable to grants and donations destined for the entities shall be approved by and disbursements shall be made through such appropriate government agency or department as determined by the National Assembly. once again the National Assembly so acted in brining into law the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act in response to the call and the mandate and the charge given by the Constitution in Article 222 A.
What we have, once again, is a selective reference to the Constitution in this instance, completely ignoring the second half of Article 222 AParagraph (a), completely ignoring Paragraph (b) and completely ignoring Paragraph (c). Article 222 A, if we are to be honest with ourselves, says very clearly that third-schedule entities shall be subject to the review and approval process that is attached to the Annual National Budget. That is crystal clear and the National Budget is ultimately determined by this honourable House.
I wish to submit, as I did on that previous occasion, that this bill is flawed in some extremely basic ways. It is grounded on a misleading premise. Specifically it is grounded and based on a selective reference to Article 222 A. It is, in fact, not even faithful to the same Article 222 A in its selective identification of certain entities to be addressed.
I do not believe that this bill merits any further comment from me. I wish to urge this honourable House to act responsibly and to reject this bill unless the Hon. Member wishes to see the light and withdraw it to remedy it and I believe that there may still be time for him to do so but, were he not to do so, I wish to urge this honourable House to do the proper thing and reject this bill, roundly. Thank you very much, Sir. [Applause]
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