Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo is urging officials of the various Government agencies, who last week received a circular from the Finance Ministry to submit their 2020 Budget proposals, to ignore the document.
However, he did recognise that these public servants were being pressured into going along with the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government’s illegal acts.
Asked whether any action would be taken against those officials who initiated the process, Jagdeo said, “They would have to say why they’re not opposed to this issue (and) why they sent out a circular of that nature. Unless, they’re hoping it would be helpful to us at the public level if the Government changes.”
However, the Opposition Leader made it clear that should the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) get into office, it would not start with a budget circular such as the one sent out by the Finance Ministry. Instead, he noted that the Party would seek to remove excess expenditure in order to save taxpayers’ money.
“The first PPP Government would immediately start from zero. Every expenditure made by this (coalition) Government will be reviewed and we will cut the excesses. The ministerial travels, the rental of buildings, the dietary, a whole range… We believe we can save a good G$20-$30 billion and pass it on back to people through lower taxes and restoration of the benefits like the G$10,000 grants and so on. So we’re not gonna work with Jordan’s framework for no budget,” Jagdeo contended.
Despite affirmation that the December No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against the coalition Government was validly passed and the fact that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has said the Administration should be in caretaker mode, preparations have commenced for 2020’s Budget.
In a move that is in implicit violation of the CCJ’s ruling, the leaked circular, dated June 21, 2019, instructs department heads, Permanent Secretaries, regional executives and heads of constitutional agencies to make submissions to the Ministry and complete aspects of Budget preparations, with a deadline of August 7, 2019 to hand in their Budget proposals.
The Budget agencies were given between August 19 and September 27, 2019 to consult with the Ministry on their submissions. October 10 was named as the date to present the constitutional agencies’ budgets to the National Assembly.
The circular, which was signed by the Ministry’s Finance Secretary, Michael Joseph, also named November 25, 2019 as the date to present the overall budget in the National Assembly. Affixing his signature to the circular, Joseph noted in the correspondence that it was penned under the delegated authority of the Finance Minister, pursuant to Section 13 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
The CCJ ruled on June 18 that the Government was defeated by a vote of no confidence, meaning early elections must be called. But just three days later, the Finance Ministry issued the circular for Budget debate in November, which is beyond the proposed date for new elections as proposed by the Opposition in a concession to the exigencies of the appeal by the Government to the NCM’s passage.
According to Jagdeo, this is a recent move in a series of acts by the coalition Government and its Ministers to defy the Trinidad-based regional court’s ruling.