The opposition parties in Guyana do not make idle threats. When they say they will do something against the government, they usually do so.
The opposition parties also refuse to budge from certain positions. After the 1997 elections, the PNC boxed itself into a corner by taking positions which it would not retreat from, even after it was clear that they could not sustain those positions. To get the party to return to National Assembly after the Audit of the elections results demonstrated that they lost the 1997 elections and lost it comprehensively was a mammoth task.
The PNC stood its ground. It took a major effort from external forces to get them to enter the parliament. They did so only after a semantic distinction between the de facto government and the de jure government.
We have seen the same nonsense in relation to the Minister of Home Affairs. They pushed the ridiculous too far. They were so hell-bent on making the Minister of Home Affairs a political scapegoat that they boxed themselves into a position from which onto now they cannot retreat.
They are refusing to entertain any Bills tabled in the name of the Minister. The National Assembly now witnesses the anomaly of Bills for the security sector having to be tabled by the Attorney General. Yet they no longer walk out when he addresses the National Assembly. That sort of politics that is being practiced by the opposition parties will get them nowhere and will get this country nowhere.
The latest threat is that the opposition parties will be discussing a no-confidence motion. The opposition parties had complained at one time that if they went along with the Chief Justice’s ruling on the Budget cuts, that the non-approval of the estimates would lead to elections. They failed to see that the ruling of the Chief Justice that they can either approve or not approve the Estimates, actually gave them more power and greater leverage over the government.
And it was proven. After they refused to approve some of the line items in this year’s Estimates, the government opted to introduce an Appropriation Bill which did not include these items. In other words, the government acceded to the opposition’s concerns over those items.
The opposition may be feeling aggrieved about the large Supplementary Bill and Statements of Excess that is either before the House or is soon to come before them. This may be the basis for the frustration that triggered the threat to call a no-confidence motion in the government.
The opposition has to understand that there is a general principle when it comes to government spending. That principle is that all spending must be approved by the parliament. But that is the general principle.
However, parliamentary practice recognizes certain limitations. One of these is that the process of preparing Estimates is not an exact science. Thus, things may be overlooked, underestimated or over-estimated. Also, there is the element of things that are unforeseen and urgent, and there are things which though foreseen or not urgent, may for various reasons not have attracted any provision.
Because of these practical concerns and exigencies, there is an exception to the general rule that parliament must approve all expenditure of the government.
That exception is the Contingencies Fund. It was created as an exception to the general rule since government spending is subject to uncertainties, emergencies and unanticipated developments. The Contingencies Fund allows the Minister of Finance a certain degree of latitude in catering for the need for expenditure which, if not addressed, will affect the public interest. That latitude is not unlimited. And it was set by the parliament itself. That latitude allows the Minister of Finance to make advances up to 2% of the previous year’s Budget from the Contingencies Fund.
If there were no Contingencies Fund, the world as we know it would have been different. Hitler would have ruled their world today. Without the Contingencies Fund, Britain would not have been able to finance its war chest. Hitler would have overrun Europe and all of us today may have been speaking German.
If it is the use of the Contingencies Fund that is aggrieving the opposition parties, then they had better begin to read more closely the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. If they do so, they would avoid having to consider that no-confidence motion which will throw this country into elections around Christmas.
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