Authority of the Assembly to make Amendments to or to Effect Cuts to the Estimates3266 15 Apr, 2013
Minister of Finance [Dr. Singh]: Mr. Speaker, I rise to offer brief arguments on the matter currently before this Hon. House. That is to say the House’s consideration of the question of whether we are authorised in this Assembly, to make amendments to or to effect cuts to the Estimates submitted for consideration by the House, by the Executive.
Let me, at the very onset respond to the quotation of my words and contributions to last year’s Budget Debate. Indeed, I suppose one is to be complimented when one is quoted so extensively by the Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan. By drawing his attention to one of the earliest paragraphs, in Budget 2012 - Budget 2012, it would be recalled was the first budget presented in this Hon. House under this unprecedented parliamentary configuration; unprecedented in our country - it would be recalled that I said within the first few minutes of rising to present Budget 2012 and I am generally loath to quote my own words, but I believe, on this occasion, they are appropriate, so I beg the forgiveness of the House for doing this, I said that, I am on public record as describing the country’s current position as uncharted waters. Not to the slightest reasons for trepidation whatsoever, but instead to signal the need for us to collectively determine a clear passage through what will inevitability be situations uncontemplated by the architects of our extant Constitutional and legislative framework.
I further exerted and I quote, “I would exert all of my colleagues in this Hon. House, never to lose sight of the need for good sense and practical answers, guided always by that which is fair and just and with but one aim constantly in mind and that is to ensure the uninterrupted daily advancement of our beloved country.
The operative words and references there are those that allude to the fact that we will inevitably in this House have to confront situations uncontemplated by the architects of our current legislative framework. I do not believe that those words should have come as a surprise to any Member of this House and I do not believe that they came as such. I do not believe that they surprised any Member of this Hon. House in any manner or form.
Whatever words I may have utter, at the end of Budget 2012, would have been words uttered without the benefit of our collective experience confronting, challenging and putting to the test, including the ultimate test, scrutiny by the courts of law.
This should not in any way be construed as a shifting of Government’s position. The fact of the matter is, the Opposition, having exercised what it believed its right at that point in time and indeed, what many of us on this side of the House may have believe to be its rights at that point in time. The matter having been placed before the courts of law, the courts have now pronounced in a definitive an unequivocal manner.
Notwithstanding that those on that side of the House would appear wanting to ascribe some kind of infallibility to me, I would be the first to eschew any such assignment. Indeed, this Finance Minister respects the court of law and will always be guided by decisions handed down by the court of law. [Mr. Ramjattan: The court is not infallible.] But we will be guided by the court.
The fact of the matter is that Article...
Mr. Speaker: Allow me please to hear the Hon. Minister.
Dr. Singh: The fact of the matter is that Article 218, to which the Hon. Member referred, is in fact quite clear. The Article speaks of the Minister responsible for finance preparing and laying before this Assembly, Estimates of the revenues and expenditure of Guyana. The Article in paragraph two, goes on to say very clearly:
“(2) When these estimates of expenditure ...have been approved by the Assembly a Bill, to be known as an Appropriation Bill, shall be introduced in the Assembly.”
The Constitution makes absolutely no provision for if the Estimates are not approved, what course of action would flow. It makes no provision for the option of Estimates that are either not approved or reduced and it makes no provision for Estimates to be submitted by any authority other than the Minister responsible for finance.
In fact, it is precisely this point that the distinguish Hon. Chief Justice ruled on. The Chief Justice said very clearly in his ruling...
Mr. Speaker: Which page is that please Hon. Minister?
Dr. Singh: Sir, I will start initially with page 13, the Hon. Chief Justice, having referred to Article 218, he said as followed: [Mr. Nagamootoo: Read the entire thing.]
“It can readily be seen that it is the Minister of Finance or other designated Ministers who bear the Constitutional responsibility and duty of preparing and laying before the Assembly, the Estimates of both revenues and expenditures.”
He goes on to say:
“It is the Executive who have the Constitutional responsibility of managing and piloting the ship of State and as a matter of practical reality, the administrative machinery for preparing such estimates.”
The Hon. Chief Justice goes on to say:
“Unsurprisingly, the Constitutional does not address or speak to a negative state of affairs, such as non approval by the National Assembly, but speaks...”
[Mrs. Backer: You left out an entire paragraph.] I did not indicate that I would be reading the entire... notwithstanding Mr. Nagamootoo’s very kind invitation. I did not accept nor acquiesce his invitation. I did jump forward to the middle of page 14. The paragraph regrettably are not numbered, or else I would have provided the number with the numbered paragraph, but the text in the interregnum do not in any way negate or conflict with the proceeding or succeeding text.
On page 14, the Hon. Chief Justice continues. He says:
“Unsurprisingly the Constitution does not address or speak to a negative state of affairs, such as non-approval by the National Assembly but speaks to a positive state of affairs, i.e. [that is] approval.”
He repeats with added emphasis of his own. He says:
“When the estimates of expenditure... have been approved...”
And he emphasises by underlining the words “when the estimates of expenditure”, “have been approved”. He goes on to say:
“This is so [This constitutional formulation and its attendant implications are so] because it is inconceivable that the National Assembly, as a national institution, would cripple executive governance by non-approval of any estimates of expenditure.”
That is a direct quotation and I will repeat:
“This is so because it is inconceivable that the National Assembly, as a national institution, would cripple executive governance by non-approval of any estimates of expenditure.”
I continue from page 14 of the Chief Justice’s ruling:
“Thus even though the power of approval necessarily has as its corollary the power of non-approval, Article 218 (2) was drafted on the assumption that the National Assembly would eventually approve the estimates of expenditure. Final non-approval of the estimates of expenditure by the National Assembly does not appear to be an option contemplated by the Constitution.”
On page 16 of the Chief Justice’s ruling he says:
“If the National Assembly were to cut or reduce the estimates of expenditure this would mean that the estimates of expenditure would be as determined by the National Assembly, rather than by the Minister. The estimates would be as determined and approved [words highlighted] by the National Assembly rather than as determined by the Minister and approved by the National Assembly.”
The Chief Justice continues:
“Article 218 clearly does not give the National Assembly the power to determine the estimates for its own approval.”
On page 17, the Chief Justice reverts to the core and crux of this matter because, indeed, this matter has its roots in our constitutional architecture, in the division of powers between the executive and legislative arms of the state and the fact of the matter is that we ultimately have to be guided by what is written in our Constitution. On page 17 the Chief Justice goes back to the root, as I said, of this matter. He says I am in fact making an insertion to abbreviate my quotation so my quotation now follows because he says, “applying that doctrine” in respect of which he is referring to the doctrine of separation of powers which he had just elaborated on.
“Applying (the doctrine of separation of powers) to the interpretation of Article 218 [and here are the critical words of this paragraph] it does appear to the court that it was not permissible to the National Assembly to cut or reduce the estimates of expenditure to any particular figure since in doing so the National Assembly was both determining and approving such estimates. If the drafters of the Constitution had wanted the National Assembly to exercise such a power they could have easily conferred such a power on it in the Constitution in express terms as indeed was done in India...”
And he refers to Article 113 (2) of the Constitution of India.
The Chief Justices ruling concluding, including, I hasten to add, by an explicit reference to the very Article 171 to which Mr. Ramjattan refers. This is the second main constitutional article upon which Mr. Ramjattan rested his arguments; page 22 and it continues on page 23. Mr. Ramjattan, it will be recalled, rested his arguments on the pillars of Articles 218 and 171 (2) and he, in particular referred to Article 171 (2) that speaks about the constitutional restriction on matters that may be brought to this House without prior Cabinet approval – one of those matters, of course, begin incurrence of expenditure – an article that is well known to those of us in this House. It would be recalled that before a number of matters I am required to signify the prior consent of the Cabinet before proceeding to consider the specified matters. Indeed it is for that reason that in the first paragraph of every budget speech, since time immemorial, reference has been made to Article 171, Paragraph 2. This was the second pillar or leg on which Mr. Ramjattan arrested his arguments.
The Chief Justice anticipated in his ruling such arguments or indeed responded to them where they were made in the court so in fact it is not that these arguments were not contemplated by the court. These arguments were in fact presented before the court and having listened to those arguments the Chief Justice said as follows. He said, and I am quoting now from the last sentence of page 22 continuing to page 23:
“While Article 171 (2) (a) (ii) speaks directly to a bill for the imposition of an additional charge of the increase in amount of an existing charge on the Consolidated Fund it recognises only by implication that an existing charge [He underlines for emphasis the word “existing”] can be reduced in amount without the consent or recommendation of the Cabinet. Article 171 (2) (a) (ii) cannot therefore be construed as recognising that the National Assembly can proceed to effect a reduction on an existing charge without the introduction of a bill; after all a charge could have been created only by the passing of an appropriation act reflecting the amounts which have received the approval of the National Assembly. To reduce the amount of such a charge would require an amending act. A mere resolution...”
These are the words of the Chief Justice:
“...after all a charge could have been created only by the passing of an appropriation act reflecting the amounts which have received the approval of the National Assembly. To reduce the amount of such a charge would require an amending act. A mere resolution cannot amend an act which creates a charge. In the instant case the issue is not at all the reduction of existing charges on the Consolidated Fund but a reduction of the estimates of expenditure as prepared and introduced by the Minister of Finance when there is as yet no charge upon the Consolidated Fund by way of an appropriation act.”
I hear Mr. Ramjattan describing the Chief Justice’s rulings as utter madness. That might be an opinion that he might have. I do not enjoy the latitude of describing rulings of the court in that matter and I would not dare so to do. Suffice it to say that there is a written decision, a written ruling, handed down by the Chief Justice of the courts of Guyana and we on this side of this House will be guided by this ruling, by statues enacted by this Parliament and ultimately by the supreme law of the land.
Mr. Speaker: One second, Minister. The page to which you referred that the Chief Justice dealt with, Article 171 (2) (A)...
Dr. Singh: Pages 22 to 23, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you.
Dr. Singh: At the bottom of page 22. Let me just double check that to make sure that I do not... It starts in the last sentence of page 22 and continues onto 23. As I was saying, we on this side of this honourable House will be guided by decisions handed down by the courts of law as in the current case of the decision handed down by our distinguished and erudite Chief Justice. Statues enacted by this honourable House, specifically the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, and ultimately by the supreme law of our land, the Constitution of Guyana. Those are the pillars by which we, on this side of the House, will be guided and, so guided, we submit that the motion for an amendment to the estimates submitted by the Hon. Member, Mr. Ramjattan, and any similar such motion that might be contemplated for submission should not be entertained in this honourable House. Thank you very much. [Applause]
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