Mar 16, 2012 News
…even as Speaker strikes out Prime Minister’s challenge
By Gary Eleazar
A division in the ranks of the political opposition parties in the National Assembly yesterday saw the approval for the $3.4B Financial Paper #8 which came by way of Supplementary provision.
The Financial Paper had forced the previous sitting of the National Assembly to end in a stalemate with the Deputy Speaker of the House, Deborah Backer, suspending the engagement to seek further advice on the way forward.
Following the announcement of the ruling by substantive Speaker of the House, Raphael Trotman, the remaining Financial Paper was put to a vote, yesterday.
On the very first item up for consideration which was a $400M+ allocation for the Office of the Prime Minister’s Electrification Programme, A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Chief Whip, Amna Ally, demanded a division after there was no clear indication on the oral vote.
The Alliance for Change (AFC) at this point in time abstained from voting and even though each of APNU’s MP’s voted against the provision, their 26-bloc vote was not enough to defeat the ruling party’s 32 votes.
The entire Financial Paper was eventually approved in the House clearing the way for the first Bill to be introduced in the House for 2012 approved.
That was the Supplementary Appropriations Bill reflecting the two Financial Papers representing in excess of $5B advanced from the Contingency Fund.
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh had elucidated that the Financial Paper #8 merely represented a ‘bringing to books’ of foreign inflows into Guyana.
The Bill was eventually cleared in the House but with the amendments to reflect the provisions which had been voted down by the combined opposition.
Those excluded provisions include a $25M allocation for the hosting of the 2011 Investiture Ceremony among others, but according to the ruling by Speaker Trotman, the Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, may re-submit the items for reconsideration.
Following the approval of the more than $5B on the two supplementary financial provisions sought, the AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, used the opportunity to remind the House and particularly the Finance Minister, that the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act mandates that he provides documentation to outline the impact that the expenditure will make on the nation for which the urgent and unavoidable expenditure was advanced from the Contingencies Fund
PM’s Five-Page Challenge
As yesterday’s session opened, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, informed the House that outside of the ruling he would have had to make on behalf of his deputy, the Prime Minister in a five-page, 40 paragraph submission had challenged the voting down of the provisions by the Combined Opposition in Financial Paper #7.
To this end, Trotman ruled that the Opposition was well within its jurisdiction to vote down the provisions for which approval was being sought by the Finance Minister.
Trotman informed the House that “the Prime Minister and Leader of the Government’s business, by way of letter dated March 6, 2012, challenged the propriety and legality of this removal of Heads, and requested me to consider his challenge.”
Trotman in his ruling as it relates to the challenge told the House that, “It is my considered opinion that the Assembly, or a majority thereof, is within its right to leave out or exclude, any item or sub-head of a Supplementary Estimate or Statement of Excess.”
He added also that the manner in which the Assembly dealt with Financial Paper # 7 seems to be in order.
“It is unusual for a notice to be given for voting against a question put…This is exactly why the question is put for adoption by the House for Members to exercise their constitutional function of supporting or voting against a proposal…A question is put to the Assembly for a decision and is determined by a majority and that was the case here…Voting against the items was not wrong.”
The Speaker said that the Prime Minister’s interpretation of the various standing Orders of Parliament are flawed given that he seems to be advocating that Financial Papers must not be subject to an affirmative or negative vote in the Assembly.
In that case, Trotman said that the Financial Papers should only be laid for information sake and not to be considered and voted on.
“A decision to vote for or against a Supplementary Estimate or a Head or sub-head thereof, cannot be reversed by the Speaker; though I am of the opinion that the Hon. Minister of Finance, or his designate, may re-introduce them for consideration.”
Meanwhile as it relates to the Motion which was introduced by APNU’s point man on finances, Carl Greenidge, to have Financial Paper # 8 completely withdrawn and resubmitted with adequate information detailing the affairs of the expenditure, the Speaker ruled the motion was never actually carried in the House as it was never voted on.
Trotman told the House that Backer at the time of the proposing of that motion was not certain about the admissibility of the motion and, “instead of proceeding in contravention of the Standing Orders, she was right in suspending and asking for an adjournment to be properly advised on the way forward.”
Trotman then ruled that it was a decision arrived at with the assistance of the Clerk of the National Assembly that Greenidge’s motion for the withdrawal of Financial Paper #. 8 was out of order, “and I so rule.”
According to the Speaker, the Standing Orders clearly set out the procedure to be followed when Supplementary Estimates are before the House.
Greenidge sought to have an amendment to the motion as it relates to consideration of the Financial Paper #8 to which the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Chief Whip Gail Teixeira objected saying that no such amendments were permitted.
At this point in the proceedings, some of the members sought to present arguments based on their understanding of the Standing Orders for and against whether the motion can be allowed or not.
Long standing PPP/C stalwart Moses Nagamootoo, who has since taken up residence in the Opposition benches in the ranks of the AFC, said that in the interest of adequate details on the billions for which the government is seeking approval, the administration should not seek to hide behind technicalities and procedures.
Nagamootoo reminded that the National Assembly is a body that regulates itself as it relates to rules and procedures and that the temptation to veer off into technicalities and procedures may be a subterfuge.
The former PPP stalwart told the House that if the Finance Minister “wishes to have these things approved all he has to do is provide more details…to resort to rules is a form of trying to avoid being frank and open.”
In the end the Speaker did rule that an amendment may be made to the motion but subject to the parameters provided for in the Standing Orders.
Trotman said too, that the event pointed out to the House that there was a clear ambiguity as it relates to the Standing Orders addressing the matter at hand and further points out a “clear contradiction.”
The Speaker did say that he was not prepared to wait for two years before the Standing Orders Committee sorts out the mess.
In the end the Financial Papers minus the provisions which were already voted down were approved in the House.
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