Citizens have a constitutional right in relation to budget consultations

The exchanges between Dr. Ashni Singh, Minister of Finance and Mr. Carl Greenidge, former Finance Minister about whether or not there will be a meeting of the parliamentary parties on the 2012 Budget should not have been necessary given the country’s constitutional framework.

Prior to 2003, Article 11 (now Article 13), Chapter II PRINIPLES AND BASES OF THE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SYSTEM provided that “The principal objective of the political system of the State is to extend socialist democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens in the management and decision-making processes of the State.” To the representatives of the PNC Government who questioned the justiciability of the specific Article, then Chancellor Keith Massiah responded in the 1987 decision in the case Attorney General v Mohammed Ally that “I see no reason to think that the articles in Chapter II of the Constitution have no juridical relevance and are merely idealistic references with cosmetic value only. So to think would be to seek to debase the Constitution.”

In a subsequent amendment, the strength and justiciability of Article 13 were put beyond doubt when by Act 10 of 2003 the right to be consulted was made into a fundamental right under Article 149C in the following terms: “No person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of participating through co-operatives, trade unions, civic or socio-economic organisations of a national character in the management and decision making processes of the State.”

However, since his appointment in 2006, Dr. Singh has shown a disdain and intolerance for the annual budget consultations – arguably the single most important decision made by the State in any year – and discontinued them for his first Budget in 2007.

Ironically, while Dr. Singh might have argued against any meeting with the parliamentary opposition on the grounds that they were not contemplated within “trade unions, civic or socio-economic organisations”, and that they have all the opportunities to participate in the debate in the National Assembly, he has agreed to meet with them even as he has blocked out entities as women’s groups, the professional accounting body, the trade unions, the private sector organisations, etc.

President Ramotar has to be careful that his preference for a more open presidency and non-violation of the Constitution applies not only to himself, but to his Ministers as well. It is not whether or not Dr. Singh cares for consultations or whether he thinks they are useful.

It is that citizens have a constitutional right to participate in such a process.

And as a Minister of the Government Dr. Singh has a corresponding duty to engage persons, and not only the parliamentary opposition, in such consultations.

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