Government’s decision to allow only three days for consideration of the Estimates is not justifiable on any grounds

If there is a single public issue in which Ram & McRae and I have devoted consistent interest it is in matters pertaining to the budgets of the public sector. Indeed, ‘Focus on the Budget’ can be considered the firm’s flagship publication, marking its 25th issue with the 2015 Budget. It is therefore with deep concern that I write to express my disappointment and displeasure at the decision by the government to allow only three days for the consideration of the 2015 Estimates.

The Standing Orders of the National Assembly set a maximum of seven days for consideration of the Estimates of Expenditure by the Committee of Supply made up of all members of the National Assembly. It is true that when the PPP/C was in power, it sought to restrict debate much to the displeasure of the opposition.

But it is also true that when the opposition APNU and AFC controlled the National Assembly they forced the debate to extend closer to the maximum. Why then is there a different standard when the same opposition parties are in government?

The three volumes of the Estimates for 2015 run to 1,616 pages compared to 1,305 pages in 2014. But it is not a matter of number of pages only. These Estimates contain expenditure for which there are three separate constitutional and financial provisions: the first is for the four months January to April, during which monthly expenditure to meet the cost of services of the government is limited to one-twelfth (1/12) of the expenditure for the preceding year; next is for the period May 1 to the passing of the 2015 Budget, during which expenditure is restricted to public services; and thereafter, expenditure approved in the Budget.

Anyone who has seen how the Audit Office’s incapacity has been exposed would realise that this is perhaps the only opportunity for any serious discussion and examination of the expenditure for these respective periods. The decision by the government therefore has the unavoidable effect of inhibiting any discussion and examination of expenditure not only up to April 30 but also during the second phase which fell under the old and the new administrations.

I reiterate that Guyanese of whatever persuasion or political affiliation need full and complete information on how their money is spent. There is no better forum that our parliamentary system has devised than the Committee of Supply.

Of the sixty-five members of parliament, there are eleven new MPs from the government side and ten from the opposition. They have hardly completed their understanding of the financial provisions of the constitution, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, and the Standing Orders pertaining to their role as members of the Committee of Supply before they are expected to act as if they are better equipped than their predecessors.

I fail to understand or accept as justifiable on any grounds whatsoever, the government’s decision. I am not at all convinced that the purpose of accountability, transparency and public education is served by this truncation of the debate.

Prorogation and its consequences

Today’s column looks at the implications and consequences of the prorogation of the Parliament as promulgated by President Ramotar. Given the widespread unfamiliarity with the prorogation power and its use, it is not surprising that the development has generated such wide ranging and at times contradictory views in the media. There are two such views which though peripheral, warrant some comment: one on the description of the Constitution and the other the spending authority of the Executive during prorogation.

Some persons take objections to the prorogation powers being attributed to what many describe as the Burnham Constitution. They are being over-sensitive. The reference is eponymous and descriptive, not political or pejorative. The Munroe Doctrine is not any less the Monroe Doctrine because John Kennedy applied it or Obama modified its practical application. Certain documents are so path-breaking that they take on the name and the character of the perceived author such as the “Kaldor Budget” of the PPP Government in 1962, even though Kaldor was not even a member of the Government, let alone the Minister of Finance.

Rather than defending the Constitution these writers and commentators should address their minds to the governance model underpinning the Constitution and offer their comments and recommendations for enhancement. This prorogation has strengthened the conviction, among supporters and critics of the Government that the model is not only not working but is counterproductive.

The other is the opinion expressed by Member of Parliament and of the Shadow Cabinet Mr. Ronald Bulkan who argues that the Executive has spending authority only up to December 31, 2014. Unfortunately Mr. Bulkan did not say whether he was expressing a view shared by the Shadow Attorney General Mr. Basil Williams and the Shadow Cabinet even as he suggested that any public expenditure after that date (presumably other than direct charges on the Consolidated Fund), would be unconstitutional and illegal.

If that view is shared by Mr. Williams, it begs the question whether Mr. Williams is in the process of seeking an interpretation by the High Court or whether he will have his legal challenge ready come December 31, 2014. If on the other hand, Mr. Bulkan’s opinion is entirely personal, it seems more than a little irresponsible for any MP to be saying to all public employees – teachers, nurses, police, etc. – that any payment to them for services rendered after December 31, 2014 will be unconstitutional and illegal until sanctioned by the National Assembly. This is time for political education and action, not unjustifiable scare mongering.
Continue reading Prorogation and its consequences

Clarification on Government can spend up to November 30, 2015 without approval

One person has raised directly with me, and another through the Stabroek News blog, asking for clarification or explanation on how I arrived at the date of November 30, 2015 to which a re-elected PPP/C could spend money without going to the National Assembly.

I set out below a Table showing the Timeline based on my understanding of the Constitution of Guyana and the assumption that the PPP/C is re-elected, whether as a majority or on a plurality. It also assumes that the PPP/C will take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the increasingly exposed anti-democratic Constitution.

Continue reading Clarification on Government can spend up to November 30, 2015 without approval

Government can spend up to November 30, 2015 without approval

The President has done what many, I included, feared he would – but still hoped he would not do – prorogue the National Assembly. In so doing President Ramotar was exercising a power that then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham retained for himself under the Constitution of 1980.

The power to prorogue which Mr. Burnham as Prime Minister enjoyed under the Independence Constitution through the Governor General was intended for a different purpose than for which Mr. Ramotar used it. It was intended simply to close one session of the National Assembly. With each session of the National Assembly now firmly set by Standing Orders authorised under Article 165 of the Constitution, the prorogation should have become otiose and abolished. The use of it is clearly a retrograde step.
Continue reading Government can spend up to November 30, 2015 without approval

Prorogation, dissolution or no confidence – that is the question

Responding to the latest confirmation by the parliamentary opposition party the Alliance for Change (AFC) that it was proceeding with the vote of no confidence against his Government, President Donald Ramotar threatened to prorogue or dissolve the National Assembly. This threat has led to some discussion and even speculation on the Constitution of Guyana, the powers of the National Assembly and the role of the Standing Orders of the Assembly.

This e-column seeks to explore the options of dissolution, prorogation or a no-confidence resolution with the understanding that a fourth option – no action in regard to any of the other three – is now not available. This fourth option has to be ruled in the face of the repeated insistence by the AFC that it would not back down, the restatements by the APNU to unqualified support for the AFC’s motion and the various responses by the Ramotar Administration PPP/C.
Continue reading Prorogation, dissolution or no confidence – that is the question