Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, told the media yesterday that the government is worried about the legal
proceedings brought against Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, by Opposition Leader, David Granger.
Granger seeks to halt the unauthorized spending of billions of taxpayers’ dollars which was disapproved in the National Assembly earlier this year.
The court application, which was filed on Thursday on Granger’s behalf, named Dr. Singh, the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall and Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman as the defendants. The legal challenge seeks to stop all unapproved spending by the Administration until the current matter has been determined.
The matter came up before Chief Justice (Ag), Ian Chang, on Monday. But when the matter was called, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) representatives, agreed to give the government a chance to respond to the writ. The government was subsequently given seven days to say why Chief Justice Ian Chang should not grant a Conservatory Order.
The opposition lawyers were seeking an ex-parte injunction. However, it was agreed by both sides that the legal challenge should be made inter parte. Nandlall, who is representing the government, will have to file an affidavit in answer, while Basil Williams, one of the lawyers for the plaintiff, will file a further affidavit in reply, if needed.
The two parties will return to court on December 29. Both sides had declined to finalize a date for hearing. Instead, both sides decided that the December 29 date would be for report.
Dr. Luncheon told media operatives yesterday that Nandlall reported on the matter at Cabinet’s recent meeting. He said too that the matter was of “abiding concern” to the administration.
The Cabinet Secretary said that it does seem from Nandlall’s presentation, that the efforts by Granger to prevent the Finance
Minister from expending sums of money under constitutional coverage is going to be the subject of legal arguments that are not expected to begin earlier than December 29 and unlikely to be concluded before December 31.
This date, he said, is when expenditure for the year 2014 ends anyhow.
Asked why government is concerned particularly about Granger’s legal action, he said that he thinks there is an interest that has to be addressed.
Dr. Luncheon said that the Opposition Leader has again sought, on constitutional grounds, to raise questions on actions that Dr. Singh, by the Chief Justice’s earlier ruling, are perfectly legitimate. To that extent, he said there is some lack of understanding in what lies behind Granger’s resort.
“The Chief Justice, in his earlier ruling, dealt with this matter, conclusively. Yet, the Leader of the Opposition thought it necessary and thought it convenient to apply to the Constitutional Court in a legal action against the Minister and the Speaker of the National Assembly,” he remarked.
Dr. Luncheon said that to the government’s understanding based on the Chief Justice’s ruling, “such a resort begs the question why?”
Outside of the Order to stay, claims were made for the court to declare that the National Assembly, in keeping with Article 218 (2) of the Constitution, lawfully disapproved in the annual estimates of Revenue and Expenditure of 2014 and was reflected in the Appropriation Bill Number 6 of 2014 and confirmed by the Appropriation Act Number 10 of 2014.
The Opposition-controlled National Assembly disapproved some $36.75B. The money included $1.3B from Office of the
President (OP) under its Administrative Services programme; $3.8B also from OP for capital estimates also under Administrative Services; some $22B from Ministry of Finance; $1.1B from Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’ Development Fund; $6.78B from Ministry of Public Works capital work and $1.3B from the Ministry of Health’s Regional and Clinical.
APNU wants the court to declare that Government unlawfully spent or authorized the spending of monies despite its disapprovals.
Minister Singh had admitted that some $4.5B had been spent for the period ended June 16, 2014, “in breach of Articles 217 and 219 (2) of the Constitution and the decisions of the National Assembly to disapprove these Programmes,” court documents highlighted.
Among several other things, APNU wants the court to order also that the spending was “unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, unreasonable and in breach of the doctrine of the separation of powers”.
Government had gone to court last year and based on a ruling by the Chief Justice had interpreted it to mean that Parliament could not cut or disapprove the National Budget.
The Opposition has objected to this notion saying that the architects of the Constitution catered for cutting when it was written that the National Budget has to come before the House.
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