The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 20133322 07 Feb, 2013
Dr. Singh: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I rise to make a contribution on the debate on the motion moved by the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greenidge, that the Assembly should grant leave for the introduction and first reading of the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2013.
There are a number of extremely compelling reasons why we on this side of the House are convinced that this Assembly should not grant the leave being sought. The Attorney General has given an insight into some of these arguments. Without repeating the points he has already made – extremely relevant points they are – I would say that we need to be extremely careful not to make the mistake of thinking that this is a trivial or simple or inconsequential matter. On the contrary what this Bill and - as the Attorney General described - its symbiotic twin, the Constitutional Amendment Bill we just considered seek to do in fact goes to the core of the constitutional and legislative architecture for managing the finances of Guyana. So I would urge some caution in treating simplistically with this matter, that it is merely to introduce constitutional third schedule entities into the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) schedule or to introduce some new kind of budgetary arrangement for these entities. One could not pursue those objectives without calling into serious question, challenging and colliding with the integrity of our constitutionally established architecture for managing the finances of Guyana.
If I may Sir, very briefly, without like I said repeating the arguments made by the Attorney General, make the point that the Constitution is very clear about vesting in the Executive responsibility for managing the economy and achieving certain economic outcomes in our country. It is for that reason in Article 171 of the Constitution, an Article which contents are replicated in our own Standing Orders, a wide range of matters pertaining to the fiscal operations of government of our country cannot be brought before this National Assembly and considered by the Assembly without leave being granted, without the consent of the Cabinet as signified by a Minister. This is a matter, of course, incurring expenditure, adjusting taxes etcetera. The Constitution is clear that imposition of a charge on the Consolidated Fund cannot be introduced legislatively into this House without the consent of the Cabinet. The cardinal principal espoused, embraced and represented by that constitutional article, is the vesting of the responsibility for economic management, and particularly fiscal management, in the Executive of our country. The Attorney General alluded to other articles that address bringing to the National Assembly, by the Executive, estimates of expenditure of revenue of Guyana.
Mr. Speaker, over and beyond the Constitution the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act is very clear. The Fiscal Management and Accountability Act assigns to the Minister and Ministry responsible for Finance certain specified duties. In fact part two of the FMAA, which the current Bill before us endeavours to amend, is crystal clear. It says that among other matters the Minister responsible for Finance shall be responsible for a long list of things, including managing and accounting for the finances and the public debt of the State. It goes on to say that the responsibilities of the Ministry as they pertain to the budget function shall include monitoring, controlling and reporting on key fiscal aggregates during budget execution. The Fiscal Management and Accountability Act is clear in this regard because the entire architecture that governs the management of our finances recognises the role of the Executive in fiscal management. One cannot, then, simplistically and naively pluck a few entities selectively, remove them from the purview of the constitutionally vested Executive role as it relates to fiscal management and place them outside of that architecture. If I may, the constitutional affront committed by this Bill is clear when one examines Article 222(a) which says very clearly that the budgets for those entities, the third schedule constitution entities, shall be included in the national budget after review and approval of the entities and their budget as part of the process of determination of the national budget. That part of Article 222(a) Mr. Greenidge often likes to selectively ignore as part of the process of determination of the national budget. To put it very simply, and to go to the crux of the matter, if you will vest in the Executive responsibility for achieving certain fiscal outcomes then you cannot remove from the purview of the Executive certain responsibilities as it relates to budget preparation and budget execution. You cannot for example, demand of the Executive and hold the Executive accountable for the achievement of certain fiscal outcomes if you will say to the Executive you have no role to play in determining these budgets. That is precisely what is happening here. How can you expect to hold this Executive or any other successor in office to the achievement of certain fiscal outcomes if you are removing from the Executive any role whatsoever in budget preparation, budget approval and budget execution with respect to these entities. You cannot have your cake and eat it.
What occurs is a direct collision. If Mr. Greenidge wants to take these entities which are significant consumers of budgetary resources, if he wants to take these entities out of the purview of the Executive and remove the Executive’s participation in any shred or form in the budgetary process as it relates to these entities then Mr. Greendige must also look at the other sections of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and relieve the Executive of any responsibility for the ultimate fiscal outcome. You cannot have your cake and eat it. That is the reality.
So this Bill goes to the very foundation of fiscal responsibility. What is being said is if the Executive no longer has a role to play in determining budgets one might as well say one is no longer going to hold the Executive accountable for the achievement of fiscal outcomes. One might as well say one will no longer hold the Executive accountability for whatever happens to public debt. That is the reality. [Interruption]They spend public monies so they will impact fiscal outcomes.
That, Sir, is the fundamental crux of the objection to this Bill. There are other objections and if I might mention them very briefly, and one in particular. Mr. Greenidge has developed something of a reputation for bringing Bills to this Parliament riddled with fundamental flaws. He refers for example in this Bill to something called a constitutional agency but does not define what he means by a constitutional agency. Is he referring to the list of entities in the Constitutional Amendment Bill he brought today? Is he referring to the list of entities in the Fiscal Management and Accountability Bill he brought last year? Those two lists are not the same. However, Mr. Greenidge has developed a reputation for inattention to detail. Once again if one peruses this Bill it is riddled with such obvious fundamental flaws that suggest it would not benefit even from the remotest of scrutiny before it got to this House.
But the substantive argument is the one I articulated earlier. I urge this House to do the responsible thing and reject roundly this attempt to shake the foundations of the constitutional structures that have been established for managing public moneys in our country.
Thank you very much, Sir. [Applause]
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