Opposition has no power to cut budget estimates – High Court

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By Kurt Campbell

Attorney General (left) Anil Nandall and Attorney - at - Law, Basil Williams. [iNews' Photo]
Attorney General (left) Anil Nandall and Attorney – at – Law, Basil Williams. [iNews’ Photo]
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Ending an almost two year battle in the High Court between the Government and the Parliamentary Opposition over the right to reduce the estimates of the National Budget, Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang on Wednesday, January 29 ruled that the Opposition has no right to cut the country’s budget estimates prepared by the Finance Minister.

Chang in his ruling however stated that the National Assembly can only approve or disapprove the entire budget or sections therein and has deemed the cutting of the National 2012 Budget as unlawful.

The Chief Justice (CJ) in his ruling said “If the Assembly were permitted to cut the Minister’s estimates, the estimates, when cut, would necessarily become the estimates as fixed and determined by the Assembly and would cease being the Minister’s estimates.”

Chang said any power in the National Assembly to cut the Minister’s estimates would necessarily mean that the requirement of approval in Article 218 of the Constitution would become otiose and unnecessary and in effect a nullification of that constitutional requirement.

“It is one thing to say that the Assembly or the Committee of supply can propose amendments to the estimates, it is another to say that the assembly itself can affect those proposed amendments.”

According to Chang, the power of the National Assembly to approve or disapprove the estimates simply means that it is conferred with a ‘gate keeping’ function by the constitution and does not imply or involve a power to amend the estimates presented by the Executive Minister.

Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang
Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang

Chang in his ruling and contrary to that of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman also stated that the Standing Orders of Parliament which permits the House to effect cut or reduction to the estimates is not law. According to him, it is the function of the Court to act as a guardian of the Constitution and an interpreter of the Standing Orders along with the Speaker.  “It must be noted that standing orders are not written laws.”

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall after the ruling said “I am happy because this is what I have always argued; the Government has been vindicated… the Speaker unfortunately had ruled that standing orders empowered the opposition to cut and the CJ has ruled that this is wrong” adding that “hopefully this judgment will guide future treatment of budgets… those who feel they have a scissors, well the scissors has been declared an unconstitutional instrument.”

The AG said they have never denied the opposition its power to approve or disapprove budgetary estimates.

 

ARE WE RUBBER STAMPS?

Attorney-at-Law and Leader of the Alliance for Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan have since noted his intention to appeal the Chief Justice’s decision.

Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan. [iNews' Photo]
Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan. [iNews’ Photo]
In fact the Chief Justice had said to Ramjattan at the end of his ruling “so there you have it Mr. Ramjattan, you can go and appeal it now because I know you were waiting to do that.”

The Opposition MP believes there are errors in the ruling and maintains that the Opposition has the right under the law to amend budgetary estimates.

“We simply are being a rubber stamp of the executive branch and so there will be no check and balance as it relates to budgetary allocations and I think there is where the chief justice made an error and we are going to settle it right up to the highest core because it is a matter that needs to be settled once and for all.”

He maintains that that the Opposition has the right under the law of Parliament to reduce budget estimates, adding that standing Orders are laws.

The Guyana Government had taken the Opposition to court following the slashing of the 2012 National Budget by $20.9 billion.

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