The latest explanation by the opposition for not supporting a financial paper submitted by the government for expenditure made from the Contingency Fund for 2011, was that it was the same document that was submitted before.
In this context one has to ask: just what variations did the opposition expect? Obviously, the government cannot vary the sums involved. The government was essentially tabling elements of a financial paper that were voted down by the National Assembly. Whether the National Assembly can do that or whether there is need for a division of the House is another issue.
But the fact that the government brought the elements back to the National Assembly obviously meant that they were seeking to replenish the Contingency Fund and the sums involved quite naturally could not be varied.
The only variation, therefore, that one can reasonably conclude was required, had to do with the format of the appropriations. In this regard, one has to question: whether the opposition knows just what is the format in which supplementary provisions are to be presented?
According to the FMAA supplementary appropriations are required to be submitted in the same format as an annual appropriation. There is however the requirement for an explanation as to what the expenditure was for and this has to be provided in a supplementary document as well as how the spending will impact on the Budget.
Since the original financial papers were presented after the end of the fiscal year and not during the fiscal year, the latter impact assessment is therefore not required since legislation did not ask for the actual impact to be documented, only the anticipated impact.
The FMAA requires that the annual appropriation Bill be presented as part of the annual Budget. More importantly, it gives exclusive discretion to the Minister of Finance to determine the format in which it is to be prepared but urges that the Minister be guided by acceptable international standards.
Neither the FMAA nor the constitution of Guyana prescribes or adopts an acceptable international standard and therefore the format of the appropriation is at the discretion of the Minister.
The FMAA, as mentioned earlier, requires that supplementary appropriations be submitted in the same format as that of the annual appropriation.
The opposition therefore needs to indicate the problems it has with the format of the supplementary financial papers submitted by the Minister of Finance. Once the format is the same as that of the annual Appropriation Bill, and once there is a supplementary sheet explaining the uses to which the expenditure was put, then there is no reason why the financial paper should not be deemed to be in order.
The opposition is probably confused between the requirements for the Appropriation Bill and that for the Budget proposal. In the case of the latter, the government has to satisfy a number of requirements including a financial plan for the fiscal year, an overview of the medium term outlook for the domestic and international economy, the requisite assumptions that inform the Budget proposal, the fiscal policy objectives, projected revenues and expenditures etc.
As part of the annual Budget, the government is also required to submit the accompanying annual appropriation Bill referred to above. This is explicitly spelt out in the FMAA.
Therefore the requirements for the annual Budget proposal and the requirements for an Appropriation Bill are not the same. As regards the latter, the Minister of Finance guided by international standards, has discretion in determining the format in which these financial papers are required to be submitted.
The opposition should therefore state clearly its expectations of the financial Bills that were submitted recently by the Minister of Finance.
The opposition needs to be reminded that it is the constitution itself which permits the Minister of Finance to place before the National Assembly, a supplementary estimate or a statement of excess showing the sums needed to meet expenditure or sums which have already been spent for which the amount appropriated is either non-existent of insufficient, or in respect to any monies expended for a purpose for which there was no appropriation.
There is therefore no legislative lacuna involved. The constitution is the supreme law of the land and the constitution is quite clear as to what can be done and what cannot be done.
Whether the opposition understands this is another issue altogether.
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