THE CONUNDRUM OVER THE FINANCIAL PAPER
There is nothing difficult about deciphering the Standing Orders of Parliament as these apply to Bills and financial papers. These orders are not written in the language of rocket science.
Where the difficulty may arise is when in making rulings on these orders, issues of precedent and case law may have to be injected.
The Standing Orders of Parliament provide that a Bill cannot be resubmitted during the same session of parliament if it contains substantively the same provisions. Case law and precedent would usually guide the Speaker in determining whether the contents of a Bill substantively are the same as a previous one submitted in the same session.
However, the Standing Orders of Parliament are so structured as to make a distinction between a Bill and a Financial Paper and it was shocking to learn that APNU in its lack of wisdom on this issue did not appreciate that the Standing Order barring the resubmission of a Bill did not apply to Financial Papers.
The Speaker of the National Assembly was therefore correct when he ruled that a Financial Paper recently tabled by the government could be entertained. APNU was rightly overruled and should go back and familiarize itself with parliamentary Standing Orders.
There has been an explanation that the reason why APNU did not comment on the re-submitted Financial Paper during the debate on this paper. It was said that they asked no questions because it was felt that the government was treating the opposition with contempt for amongst other things classifying mobilization expenditure relating to the land as being related to Design and Study.
In the context that this expenditure which was voted down earlier this year on the grounds that it ought to have been predicted, one has to ask how was the government to know the basis of the opposition’s non- support of this particular expenditure when the combined opposition stayed quiet during the debate.
It is one thing to accuse the government of contempt by resubmitting a Financial Paper in the same way as a previous submission. It is another thing to not support the expenditure on the basis that it was wrongly classified. What would have been objectionable for the opposition to simply indicate then and there the basis for remaining silent? The opposition’s explanation is not convincing.
Whether the government was correct in its classification depends on what the study and design exercise involved. It could have been that land clearing was a part of the contract for the study and design. It could also be that it may not have been but how would the opposition know if it did not ask for clarification?
Not also convincing is the opposition’s claim that the government should have provided the name of the payee for the purchase of the land. Perhaps, it would help the government if the opposition can point out the exact provisions in the law that requires the government to point out the name of the payee in a Financial Paper. It certainly would be enlightening not just to the government but to the public at large where this is a specific requirement when requesting approval for Financial Paper.
As regards the argument that the government compulsorily acquired the land yet was attempting to pay for it, there is no contradiction here.
By compulsorily acquisition is meant the obtaining of property by the State even if the owner is unwilling to dispose of the land or sell to the State. For public purposes, lands may be compulsorily acquired but since the constitution dictates that no one should be deprived of property without compensation, the government cannot take away private lands without paying compensation.
This probably explains why the government was making a payment for land which had compulsorily acquired for the purposes of building a specialty hospital.
It is therefore advised that APNU gets its act together and try to take some time to familiarize themselves with these and other issues lest in its quest to use its parliamentary power to keep the government on its toes, it does not end up embarrassing itself by its lack of understanding of parliamentary standing orders, the law and the constitution of Guyana.