Attorney General Anil Nandlall has regaled the media with a verbose statement on the decision by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in the case brought by opposition leader David Granger challenging the legality of the spending of $4.6 billion and programmes expressly disapproved by the National Assembly during the 2014 budget debate. Mr Granger sought several declarations that the expenditure was illegal, one order, and a conservatory order staying (stopping) all spending by the government on programmes disapproved or not authorized by the National Assembly until the matter was heard and determined by the court.
According to Mr Nandlall the only matter before the court was the application for a conservatory order and that the hearing and determination of the substantive action was for consideration later. On that basis, Mr Nandlall now argues that the interim conservatory order sought by Mr Granger was the only issue on which the court could properly pronounce.
That is an extremely self-serving and dishonest interpretation of the court’s decision. AG Nandlall did indeed successfully argue against a conservatory order which the court had no option but to accept. The action by Mr Granger’s lawyers was brought in December 2014 to halt certain expenditure for the year. Mr Nandlall is now gloating over that refusal.
Sadly, Mr Nandlall either did not understand the decision or is unfamiliar with the principle of law involved in the case.
There is no dispute of facts in this case, a point made by the court on more than one occasion in its written decision. Indeed it was the Minister of Finance who himself admitted to the spending when he brought to the National Assembly for approval the statement of excess for the $4.6 billion spent on programmes expressly disapproved earlier by the National Assembly.
Applying the constitutional provision to the undisputed facts the court found that “it is clear that the prohibition contained in article 217 (1) (b) of the Constitution was infringed.” That prohibition is against any withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund except as authorised by an Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President.
The principle that guided the court in arriving at its decision on both the interim question relating to the Conservatory Order and on the substantive issue of the spending is well established and reported and that is, when a matter of pure law is raised the court should deal with the matter finally and definitively.
Ostensibly Mr Nandlall wants the substantive matter to go through another round of meaningless arguments completely unmindful of the consequential and “complete waste of judicial time” hearing the “same arguments in law rehearsed all over again.”
Confronted with a finding by the Constitutional/Administrative Division of the High Court that he provided bad advice to the government resulting in the unconstitutional, and unlawful and unauthorised expenditure of $4.6 billion up to June 16, 2014, it would have been wise for Mr Nandlall to take heed of the aphorism that the first thing you should do when you are in a hole is to stop digging.
I believe that Mr Nandlall dreads having to confront the disclosure – which will come sooner rather than later – of the full extent of the unconstitutional and unauthorised expenditure between June 17 and December 31, 2014 which is likely to be considerably more than the $4.6 billion spent up to June 16.
His statement may also be an attempt to buy time for the government to spend billions of dollars during the period January to April 2015 using as the base the 2014 expenditure enlarged by unlawful expenditure.
Defying what is described as trite law, Mr Nandlall in this case argued that the doctrine of estoppel operates against the constitution and the law! Clearly not wishing to embarrass the office of Attorney General, the court graciously ignored the point.
Had such a mindless utterance derived from a junior attorney, he would have been laughed out of the court. That it should come from the country’s Attorney General is a measure of Guyana’s human resource tragedy.
As Attorney General, Mr Nandlall must be aware of the mechanisms available to him as the attorney for one of the parties. He should be availing himself of those rather than parading on the political stage.