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…House approved $84.4M for Opposition Office but sum mysteriously cut to $37M
By Svetlana Marshall
Even as the Courts determine the constitutionality of the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2021, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition is already feeling the negative impact of such a legislation with its budgetary allocation slashed by more than 60%, crippling its ability to effectively represent its constituency.
Ahead of the presentation of the 2021 National Budget, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition made a budget request for $92.2M for current expenditure, however, the National Assembly only approved $84.4M.
Information coming out of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition indicates that the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs subsequently advised that the Opposition’s Budget was further reduced to $37M.
“Mr. Isaacs did not disclose by whom the budget was cut. Accounting liaison staff at Parliament also advised that the new figure of GY$37,000,000 is what they have been instructed to work with,” a document coming out of the Opposition Office reads. It said the “arbitrary” and unexplained ‘cut’ represents a 57% cut or $47,415,881.
Additionally, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition had requested a budgetary sum of GY$48.3M for capital expenditure for 2021, however, the National Assembly approved GY$19.7M.
“The Clerk of the National Assembly Mr. Sherlock Isaacs then subsequently advised staff at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition that the capital budget for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition has been mysteriously cut to GY$5,000,000. Mr. Isaacs did not disclose by whom the budget was cut,” the reporting coming out of the Opposition Leader’s Office said.
It added that the “Accounting liaison staff at Parliament also advised that the new figure of GY$5,000,000 is what they have been instructed to work with. This arbitrary and unexplained ’cut’ of the capital represents a 75% cut ($14,750,000).”
Village Voice Newspaper was unable to make contact with the Clerk of the National Assembly, however, the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon, in an interview with this newspaper, confirmed that his budget was arbitrary cut with no explanation offered. Village Voice News also reached out to Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh for a comment on the matter, but there was no response up to press time.
He said the Government used the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act to effect the initial cuts, however the subsequent cuts were reportedly made on the instructions of the Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo.
Harmon said the amendment to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act is unconstitutional as it now requires constitutional agencies to submit their budget proposals to the Ministry of Finance for its consideration before they are submitted to the National Assembly for approval.
“We consider it to be unconstitutional,” the Opposition Leader said.
Further, he accused Jagdeo of instructing the Parliament Office, under which the Office of the Leader of the Opposition falls, to effect further cuts to his budget.
“Jagdeo is the person who is doing this, and we have taken the matter to the court because we believe that it is wrong for the Government, as a branch of the State, that is to say the Executive Branch, to be exercising that amount of authority over the Legislative Branch because that is in effect what has been happening,” Harmon said.
He said the reductions have significantly affected his Office’s ability to execute its programme for 2021, and to cushion the impact, it has resorted to fund raising.
“It certainly affected our ability to fully represent 218,000 and more persons who voted for us, and it is vindictive [and] it is arbitrary…and this is really what we are getting from this installed regime, that believe that everything that has to happen has to come from them, if it doesn’t come from them, if it isn’t approved by them, it cannot happen in Guyana,” Harmon said.
The Opposition Leader said he has raised his concerns with the regional and international communities including the U.S.
In the case Ganesh Mahipaul et el v the Attorney General et el, the attorney representing the applicants have argued that the passage of the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2021 has impaired the financial independence and autonomy of the Constitutional Agencies, listed in the Third Schedule of the Constitution, though the independence of those agencies are protected by Article 222A, 212 (G) and 122 (A).
Article 222A, in particular, states: “In Order to assure the independence of the entities listed in the Third Schedule- (a) The expenditure of each of the entities shall be financed as direct charge on the Consolidated Fund, determined as a lump sum by way of an annual subvention approved by the National Assembly after a review and approval of the entity’s annual budget as a part of the process of the determination of the national budget.”
Further, it states that each constitutional agency must manage its subvention as it deems fit for the efficient discharge of its functions, subject only to conformity with the financial practices and procedures approved by the National Assembly to ensure accountability.
Under the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act, constitutional agencies are mandated to submit their budget proposals to a Minister of Government for approval then to the Minister of Finance for inclusion in the National Budget but such a method is unconstitutional, null and void, the team of lawyers led by Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde has argued.
Representatives from the Judicial Service Commission and the Supreme Court have filed Affidavits in support of the case.
In an affidavit dated March 11, 2021, Attorney-at-Law Tiffany Hohenkirk, who is currently stationed at the Court of Appeal, and is the Secretary (ag) to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), said the JSC is among constitutional agencies listed under the Third Schedule of the Constitution.
Hohenkirk said the independence of the JSC is guaranteed by the Constitution.
“The procedure for appropriation requires that the Minister of Finance lay before the National Assembly estimates of revenues and expenditure of Guyana, however, estimates of expenditure that are a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund are to be excluded from the appropriation approval process.
Accordingly, I am advised by Senior Counsel, Mr Stephen G.N Fraser, and verily believe that any legislative or administrative measure which impedes the funding of the Judicial Service Commission or the salaries or presiding over the Courts by way of direct charge on the Consolidated Fund would be unconstitutional,” she told the Court.
Attorney-at-Law Sueanna Lovell, in her affidavit to the High Court had made a similar case as an Officer of the Supreme Court Registry.
Lovell stated that the Constitution specifically provides that all Courts and all persons presiding over the courts shall exercise their functions independently of the control and direction of any person or authority, and shall be free and independent from political executive control.