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—Forde flags PPP’s incessant breach of constitution
—govt found wanting by court four times since returning to office
Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde said Civil Society – a strong pillar of democracy could do much more to hold the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government accountable as he pointed to the significant constitutional breaches outlined in a series of court rulings.
Since its return to office in August 2020, the PPP/C Administration, on four different occasions, has been found in breach of the Constitution by the Court – a trend, Forde said, is beyond worrying for a democratic state such as Guyana.
“Civil Society has an important role to play; it is a constituent element of the entire society and governance process but its silence has imbued the government with a certain misplaced confidence that it could breach the Constitution, [and] engage in acts that are contrary to the letter and spirit of the of the Constitution without suffering any major condemnation by civil society actors,” Forde, an A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament, told the Village Voice Newspaper in an interview.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL BREACHES
The first constitutional breach took place almost immediately upon the PPP/C’s accession to office, when it appointed Attorney-at-Law Oneidge Walrond Member of Parliament and Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, knowing fully well that at the time she was a dual citizen.
By December 10, 2020, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George ruled that Walrond was an unlawful Member of the National Assembly, and that her initial appointment as a Minister of Government was in breach of the Constitution due to her foreign status at the time. Walrond was sworn in as a Member of Parliament on September 1 while being a citizen of the United States of America (USA) in breach of Article 155 of the Constitution, which prohibits dual citizens from being appointed Parliamentarians. However, days before the ruling, Walrond was secretively sworn-in as Minister for a second time by President Irfaan Ali after relinquishing her foreign status.
By April 2021, the Government was found to be in breach of the Constitution for a second time. The Chief Justice (ag)ruled that Sarah Browne and VikashRamkissoon were unlawfully appointed Parliamentary Secretaries in the National Assembly in breach of Article 186.
It was explained that while an elected Member of the National Assembly extracted from a List of Candidates, whose party secured seats in the House, can be appointed Parliamentary Secretary, in addition to two non-elected Members, the Constitution bars elected members who were not extracted from a List of Candidates from being Parliamentary Secretaries and or Technocrats.
On October 11, 2021, High Court Judge, Justice Nareshwar Harnananruled that the budgetary process utilized by the PPP/C Administration violated the Constitution. It was explained that constitutional agencies ought not to have been lumped with budgetary agencies as they constitute a direct charge upon the Consolidated Fund.
By November 1, Justice Franklyn Holder, ruled that the consideration and approval of the budget proposals for constitutional agencies by the National Assembly in September 2020 were in violation of Section 80 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
Section 80 B (1) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2015, mandates that the Budget of the Audit Office of Guyana be submitted to the Parliament by the Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), however, no such submission was made.
The rulings stemmed from legal proceedings initiated by APNU+AFC Members of Parliament, and while the Government has taken ‘steps’ to correct these constitutional breaches, Forde believes that amendments proposed in the case of Fiscal Management Accountability (Amendment) Act is still deficient.
“I don’t believe that the proposed amendments satisfy the requirements as outlined by the Court,” the Senior Counsel said while noting that the Government continues to show scant regard for the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
On that note, Forde pointed to what he described as an abuse of the Contingency Fund. For 2021 alone, the Government has submitted four Financial Papers, the last two submitted in early December and totaled $26B of which $5.1B was taken from the Contingency Fund.
The Financial Papers were presented to the House for approval some six months after the Governmentwithdrew some $21B from the Contingency Fund – just three and a half months after the 2021 Budget totaling $383B was approved by the National Assembly. Similar actions were taken by the Government in December, just days before 2020 came to an end.
While Article 220 (1) of the Constitution and Section 41 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act empower the Minister responsible for Finance to make advances from the Contingency Fund, he or she must be satisfied that the funds will be used for urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen events.
Forde said while the Financial Papers are a representation of poor budgetary planning on the part of Government, it also represents a breach of the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act because many of the projects and programmes were not urgent, unavoidable or unforeseen.
“We believe that it is another important matter to be noted, and it is another serious breach of the Constitution. I believe that when you add this together with the other violations of the Constitution which we would have responded to by instituting court matters, that it shows a certain mindset and a certain orientation on the part of the PPP in which they do not want to subscribe to the limitation of the Constitution to the requirements of the Constitution,” Forde posited.
The Senior Counsel said it would appear that the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall has been ill-advising the Ali Administration.
“While Nandlall, though misinformed, would have said that he is guardian of the Constitution, as the Attorney General, he would have either committed or advised the Government to engage in the numerous constitutional violations and flagrant breaches of the Constitution,” Forde said.
Forde said while the Opposition will continue to hold the Government accountable, Civil Society must do its part by condemning the Government’s repeated and flagrant breach of the Constitution.
International Community, he said, has also been informed of the continuous breaches, and it is anticipated that sanctions would be imposed should these breaches continue.