Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, has been sent before a complaints committee of the National Assembly to answer why he failed to comply with a Parliamentary Order which requested that he present a number of financial reports and transfer millions of dollars held in the accounts of several Government agencies.
However, Speaker of the House, Raphael Trotman, in a ruling released yesterday found that a case has not been made out why Singh should additionally answer for some $217M that seemed to have been released in an unauthorized manner to two state-owned media entities in 2012 whose budgets had been reduced to a $1 by the Opposition.
A motion was filed in early December by Member of Parliament (MP) Carl Greenidge of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) which charged Minister Singh with failing to comply with a Parliamentary order over the two matters.
According to Greenidge in his motion, on April 18th, 2013, the National Assembly voted down $843M that was budgeted for the National Communications Network (NCN) and Government Information Agency (GINA) to $1. The Appropriation Act was passed on April 24th and assented to by President Donald Ramotar on May 2nd 2013. Both NCN and GINA had to do “certain things” before the monies were restored, Greenidge said.
Yet, Singh went ahead and released more than $217M, the APNU official said.
Signaling the Opposition’s disapproval of the Minister’s actions, the APNU MP asked that the matter be sent to the Privileges Committee of the National Assembly to determine whether Singh should face sanctions.
In his motion, Greenidge also asked that the House send the Minister to the Committee to answer why he failed to comply with requests for the reports of the Government agencies to be laid in the National Assembly and for the monies to be placed in the central treasury account, the Consolidated Fund.
Among the Government agencies which reports were supposed to be laid in the National Assembly were the Guyana Development (Lotto funds) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.
Greenidge pointed out that the National Assembly took the decision on the reports since June 27th, 2012. However, as at December, the Minister had not complied.
In his ruling, the Speaker said that he had to consider whether the motion raised an issue of privilege pertaining to National Assembly, the Minister, or both.
While there are clear indications that the Minister did not comply, it is impossible to determine whether this was deliberate on the part of Singh; or whether there was difficulty in implementing them.
Trotman found that a case has been made out against the Minister and that the particular issue of the reports will be referred by the Privileges Committee. Trotman was, however, quick to point out that referring the case to the committee does not mean that the Minister was guilty of any wrongdoing.
“It is now the function of the Privileges Committee to consider what to make of the complaint.”
Regarding the NCN and GINA issue, the Speaker noted that the public spending and the rights and role of the National Assembly (NA) have been the subject of much interpretation.
“There are stark differences of opinion between the majority of the NA and the Executive as to what authority the Minister of Finance has.”
Among the considerations was whether the National Assembly on April 18th issued a legitimate command or instructions to the Minister of Finance regarding the release of monies to NCN and GINA.
Trotman said that the Greenidge’s motion did not explain what he meant about “certain things” and a request for more information from that APNU official did not shed any light.
The Speaker said that to determine what Greenidge meant would have been entering the realms of speculation.
“This is an unwanted and potentially dangerous invitation to the Speaker as it invites arbitrariness in decision making.”
He found that there were insufficient facts to support the contention that the National Assembly issued a legitimate instruction regarding the release of monies to NCN and Gina.
“…and most importantly that the instruction or command was disobeyed. Before there can be a prima facie case for contempt, there has to be evidence of an instruction or command.”
Had the National Assembly passed a resolution directing Minister Singh to act in a specific way, the position of the Speaker would have been different.
The subject of the Opposition’s right to cut the National Budget has engaged the courts with the executive and the legislature heavily divided on the matter.
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