Head of State, President Donald Ramotar has defended the actions of Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, in relation to the more than $4.5B that he authorized to be spent from the Consolidated Fund by saying it was a decision of Cabinet.
However, former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran says that the Constitution places liability only on the Finance Minister.
Goolsarran in his latest writings on the matter observed, that nowhere in Articles 217 through 219 of the Constitution, is there reference to Cabinet.
“Therefore, the Minister will be personally liable if there is a misapplication of these Articles, not Cabinet.”
According to Goolsarran, the Minister ought not to carry out an instruction of Cabinet that violates any aspect of the Constitution or for that matter, any law.
He notes too, that Dr. Singh, as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana can be liable for disciplinary action if a complaint is lodged with that body.
Goolsarran in his writings on the matter said, that another argument put forward by Government is that; what obtained in 2014 was no different for 2012 and 2013 where excess expenditure was tabled and considered by the Assembly.
According to Goolsarran however, A Partnership for National Unity’s Carl Greenidge is on record as having stated, that the first Financial Paper in 2013 dealing with excess expenditure “was contemptuous, since it brought back items cut from the budget…He suggested that the Minister be censured for his action.”
Goolsarran has also responded to the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who recently said, that the Speaker’s decision to have the Finance Minister referred to a Committee of Privileges over the alleged illegal spending would be challenged in court.
Nandlall had argued that the Speaker erred because the Minister’s action hinges on constitutional authority and powers and therefore, they are matters of law and constitutional interpretation.
According to the former Auditor General, Nandlall has overlooked the fact that the Minister’s action affects the powers and privileges of the Assembly and undermines its authority.
“This is especially so when one considers that the Assembly had specifically disapproved of all the items of expenditure, except one, contained in the statement of excess.”
Goolsarran points to the fact that Nandlall contends that the Privileges Committee already reeks of bias because its members are politicians who have already stated that the Minister was guilty of an offence.
“My understanding is that any committee of the Assembly comprises members based on party representation…The Attorney General is therefore indicting members of the political party to which he belongs.”
According to Goolsarran, the Attorney General does not appear to give due recognition of the Standing Orders of Parliament.
He explained that the Standing Orders are the internal rules that provide for the effective functioning of the Assembly and are constitutionally recognized and supported.
“After the Privileges Committee would have deliberated on the matter, it is required to present its report to the Assembly for consideration and possible debate…If the Attorney General is not satisfied with the outcome, then it would be appropriate for him to seek redress through the courts, not before.”
Goolsarran is of the view that asking the court to intervene at this stage is premature, and pre-judges the results of the committee’s deliberations.
He has also weighed in on what appears to be a prolonged delay in the consideration of the Statement of Excess tabled by Dr. Singh.
According to Goolsarran, it has always been the practice for the Assembly to consider financial papers as a matter of priority since failure to do so, can have adverse implications for the operations of the concerned government entities.
“The Minister presented Financial Paper 1/2014 on 19 June 2014…It was not until 10 July that it was placed on the Order Paper…However, there was a note to the effect that the paper would not be proceeded with, presumably because the Minister was granted leave of absence for this day.”
According to Goolsarran, to make matters worse, “we are now informed that the paper is unlikely to be considered until after 10 October.”
This delay, he said, will only serve to complicate matters, since funds have to be obtained to meet expenditure on essential services contained in the six programmes that the Assembly had declined to approve.
The combined Opposition had advised Minister Singh to present a supplementary estimate to cover such expenditures.
The Finance Minister has so far declined to do so, and according to Goolsarran “in all probability, the Minister would have used the same route to access funds from 17 June to date…He is also likely to do so during the two-month period when Parliament will be in recess.”
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