By Tracey Khan – Drakes
[www.inewsguyana.com] – The Speaker’s ruling to have the Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh appear before the Privileges committee due to the spending of some $4.5 Billion that was disapproved in the National Assembly by the Opposition is not sitting well with President Donald Ramotar.
At a press conference today [Saturday, July 26], the President described the ruling as “strange.”
He told reporters that the speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman is fully aware of the constitutional court’s ruling in 2012, when cuts were first made to the National budget by the Opposition.
The Court had ruled to have the sums restored. It is in keeping with that ruling and Cabinet’s decision that the finance Minister made the decision to spend the $4.5 Billion in a number of critical areas, according to the President.
President Ramotar has since challenged the Speaker in a letter to call Alliance for Change members, Khemraj Ramjattan and Cathy Hughes before the Privileges committee for what he has deemed as ‘unprofessional” conduct with their involvement of two projects – the Amalia Falls and Specialty Hospital.
The President also maintains that the Minister’s actions were not illegal since the money will be used for the school uniform voucher project, the Amerindian development fund; improve the condition of airstrips in the interior and student loans at the University of Guyana.
The Speaker earlier in the week referred the Finance Minister to the Committee of Privileges where select MPs will assess his conduct in spending some $4.5 billion from the national purse.
According to Trotman, it is his opinion that the issue of the spending by the Minister does raise sufficient and serious questions and recommends that it be enquired into by the Committee.
The Speaker was ruling on a Motion submitted by Shadow Finance Minister Carl Greendige regarding the authorization of expenditure from the consolidated fund.
But according to Attorney General, Anil Nandlall the issue raised in the Motion is purely a legal one. He concludes that the issue which has been referred to the Privileges Committee by the Speaker is hardly a matter of “privilege but rather it is a matter of law and constitutional interpretation.”
Trotman said while the Minister relies on Article 218 (3) as the legal basis for his spending, Greenidge has complained that the Minister has breached his parliamentary privilege and/or is in contempt of Parliament by spending unauthorized money.
The Speaker made it clear that the Standing Orders of the House affords him the right to determine whether or not there is prima facie evidence that there has been a breach and has so done.
Trotman pointed out that it is not for him to determine guilt or innocence but maintains that on the face of the complaint there is sufficient evidence to warrant a probe.
The Alliance for Change (AFC) has since made an official complaint to the Guyana Police Force and has threatened to bring a no –confidence vote against the administration if President Donald Ramotar does not stop Dr. Singh from spending without Parliamentary approval.
The Minister will now have to prove his case before the Privileges Committee and defend his spending as legal. After which recommendations will be made on what course of action will be taken against Dr. Singh.
The Attorney General says however that in the circumstances, over the next few days, Government will be considering its options and resorting to a legal challenge of this ruling is one of them.