– National Assembly reserves right to appeal – Speaker Trotman
“The right of the National Assembly to approve, including the right to amend budgetary estimates, is a long established right.”
Following the ruling by Chief Justice (ag), Ian Chang, that the political opposition can only approve or disapprove sections of the Budget, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, has since warned that this decision is an interpretation that would have far-reaching ripples and effects throughout the Commonwealth parliamentary systems and procedures.
According to Trotman in a public missive yesterday, “the right of the National Assembly to approve, including the right to amend budgetary estimates, is a long established right.”
Trotman said that the doctrine of the separation of powers is the foundation of Guyana’s, and all parliamentary democracies, which recognises that the rule of law must be respected and upheld.
“The principle of comity dictates that the three branches of government – the Executive, the Legislative and the judicial are all separate and equal, and are to respect the rights and authority of each other…To this end, though the decision of the High Court is to be respected, it remains subject to the inherent right of appeal that is reposed in the National Assembly.”
The Speaker said that he was made a party to the proceedings in his capacity as a representative of the National Assembly, and as such, it is for the National Assembly to determine and direct the way forward in conformity with Article 171.
Chang on Thursday last imposed a ban on the combined opposition from making any cuts to this year’s and future budgets, but the opposition has vowed to not only appeal the CJ’s order, but to ignore it in its entirety.
Government has since hinted its intent to file further legal proceedings that will see the opposition having to abide by the Chief Justice’s ruling.
Thursday’s decision immediately sparked outrage from the opposition which controls the 65-member Assembly when it was ordered that opposition legislators holding a one-seat majority could only approve or disapprove budget estimates because they do not have the power to alter in anyway the estimates presented by the government.
The Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) have stood firm in their position to impose vast cuts on ministries, government departments and projects which they feel are riddled with corruption or wasteful spending.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall has stated however that it is unfortunate that the opposition is disregarding the court’s pronouncement. He told Kaieteur News that “they (opposition) would be sending a bad message to the man on the street, causing a complete breakdown in society”. Nandlall pointed out further, the disrespect being shown by one arm of government (Legislative) against the other (Judiciary).
The Attorney General mentioned also that it would not be the choice
of the government to see opposition members being held for contempt of the court. During a brief discussion with media operatives following Thursday’s ruling, the AG stated that the government has the option to file a court order barring the opposition from making any cuts. When asked about possible snap elections, he acknowledged that the opposition has the right to disapprove the whole of this year’s budget, but that would be “debatable.”
If that does occur, Nandlall said, the opposition could move a no-confidence motion and within three months fresh polls could be held.
Shadow Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams told media workers following Thursday’s ruling that the government could make whatever moves it chooses because the Parliament maintains that it is independent. He reiterated that the two Constitutional arms must recognize the separation of powers. He said that if the AG went to the court to challenge the budget cuts and the court hears the government’s side alone, “good for the AG, the court hasn’t heard us; and therefore they will have to accept whatever course is adopted in the parliament; but we are maintaining that the Parliament is independent and has the authority to make decisions within its domain.”
Williams also saw the High Court ruling as a mechanism to spare the Finance Minister from being sanctioned for spending unapproved sums.
“We are bringing a motion of censure against the Finance Minister and they probably believe that the motion can’t come anymore, but that is a useless thought.”
Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan, also reaffirmed his party’s position that they too will not adhere to the High Court ruling which is believed to be overlapping into the affairs of the “independent Parliament.” He said that the AG could take whatever recourse he sees fit on behalf of the government; but until the Caribbean Court of Justice pronounces on the matter, opposition legislators will continue in the course they see fit.
AFC’s Moses Nagamootoo has also expressed that the government is seeking to spare the Finance Minister from the wrath of Parliament for unauthorized spending.
The 2014 budget has to be read and approved by the end of March. Opposition legislators have the option of voting it down all together using their majority, but for now are holding back on this, as it could force the country to go to the polls for fresh elections within 90 days.
The Chief Justice has however said to the opposition that “the power to amend may involve the power to approve. But a power to approve does not imply a power to amend.”
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