“No constitutional means permit expenditure not approved” – Greenidge
By Gary Eleazar
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh submitted a Statement of Excess yesterday in the National Assembly, outlining that
Government has spent more than $4.5B of the $31B that the opposition had disapproved.
The move was a departure from an announcement made the previous day by Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, who said Government would initiate an exercise to restore the money that was axed from the 2014 Budget.
Dr. Singh yesterday requested that the Financial Paper, the first for 2014, be debated and voted on when the House meets again.
While several of the allocations distributed by the Finance Ministry for the period ending June 16, 2014, dealt with salaries and other recurring expenditure for Office of the President, several of the allocations fall within the ambit of what the Opposition deemed contentious.
The National Communications Network (NCN) was the recipient of a subsidy from Office of the President of $32.6M while the Government Information Agency (GINA) received $66.4M.
The political opposition had also voted down monies allocated under the Low Carbon Development Strategy, but the Ministry of Finance expended in excess of $424M under this heading. There was much hue and cry about the voted down Student Loan for the University of Guyana, but a sum of $225M was supplied.
The opposition argued a lack of transparency when it voted down the Amerindian Development Fund, but this has not stopped government from spending more than $306M. The controversial expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport which was also denied money under the 2014 Budget received just over $359M.
In total, the Statement of Excess tabled in the House by the Finance Minister amounts to $4,553, 721,991 that would have been spent in Current and Capital Expenditure for the period ending June, 16, 2014.
When Dr. Luncheon made the announcement on Wednesday last, he told members of the media that the Finance Minister addressed Cabinet when it met on Tuesday “on his resort to the use of restoration of expenditure beyond that which was voted, that was appropriated, and indeed it was the focus of his presentation and the basis for the use of the restoration of the appropriations.”
According to Dr. Luncheon, the Finance Minister “relied on constitutional grounds and on rulings of the constitutional court, to initiate his exercise of restoration of appropriation in the 2014 fiscal year.”
Meanwhile Chief Financial Spokesperson for A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Carl Greenidge, in responding to Dr. Luncheon, reminded that in April the National Assembly refused to approve funds for a number of agencies because they were dissatisfied about the appropriateness of the requests.
He spoke of a failure to disclose or adopt adequate tender procedures, false description of uses, unacceptable priorities, premature requests and abuse of taxpayers as being among the reasons that gave rise to the non-approval.
Greenidge questioned if the Executive has a power that allows the Minister of Finance to simply ignore or override decisions of the House with regard to Budgets, what the point would be of seeking the approval of the Assembly.
“Many people have given their lives to ensure that this does not happen, and today, a People’s Progressive Party government with the implicit assistance of elements in the judiciary, are set on ensuring that those lives in Guyana, and elsewhere, have been sacrificed for nothing.”
According to Greenidge, the Assembly is not without powers in this regard and will have no option but to use them condignly against those of its members responsible, even if action against the Executive, as a whole, is of necessity limited.
“Elsewhere, when officers and Ministers spend without justification they are surcharged and sometimes prosecuted.”
Greenidge said that Government seems to feel that simply reporting that they have overspent is all that is required, hence the new approach of submitting Statements of Excess.
Statements of Excess, according to Greenidge, need to be approved and monies needed to cover the excess expenditure found. He is adamant that the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act makes provision for prosecution of both Minister and officials – Section 76 makes mention of the minister or official being personally liable for these amounts and liability does not end simply when the person ceases to be a Minister or official.
He notes that Section 85 speaks of fines of $2M and imprisonment for three years.
“We clearly have to enforce this provision if the headlines about contractors proceeding with work, and Ministries making commitments in spite of non-approval of funds, and if the members of the Executive are not to be telling the public that they will spend by Constitutional means… No constitutional means permit expenditure specifically not approved by the House,” Greenidge stressed.
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