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|Decision pending in Attorney General’s budget cuts case - as arguments wrapped up yesterday|
|Tuesday, 10 July 2012 21:46|
CHIEF Justice Ian Chang (ag) has pledged to ensure that a decision is delivered speedily on the Attorney General’s application to the Supreme Court for an Interim Order to allow the Minister of Finance to access monies cut from the 2012 National Budget.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall stated, yesterday, that all submissions have been made by the Opposition side.
“Today, Mr. Rex McKay presented the submissions for and on behalf of Mr. David Granger. The submissions were largely done in writing and then he oralised some of the important points. Having listened to them, I was able to reply immediately thereafter. I rebutted the arguments advanced and I remain confident that they do not contradict in any real way what I have argued and they do not present an answer to the legal arguments which I have advanced.”
Minister Nandlall expressed confidence that the Court would make the Order “in a manner that is prayed for or with a slight variation.” He posited that the arguments advanced do not answer the case which he put forward.
The Minister added that he has “urged respectfully, the Chief Justice, that this is a matter of grave urgency, and involving the national interest. Therefore, every convenient speed should be taken to ensure that the decision is rendered one way or another, as quickly as is reasonably possible. The Chief Justice has indicated that he will ensure that a decision is delivered speedily. We are waiting for the Chief Justice to indicate to us shortly when the ruling will be made.”
Meanwhile, Senior Counsel Rex McKay, representing Leader of the Opposition David Granger has stated that, “We rehashed all the previous submissions made by Mr. Ramjattan. Our arguments centered on not reading words into the Constitution, and that there is no breach in the principle of separation of powers.”
The High Court case brought by the Government against the Opposition regarding the cuts to the National Budget began on June 7, 2012.
An application was made in the Chambers of Chief Justice Ian Chang by Minister Nandlall, who said that the Order would permit the Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh to withdraw from the Contingency Funds, the sums of money originally budgeted for. The Court gave the Opposition three weeks in which to prepare submissions on why the Interim Order applied for should not be granted to the Government.
The argument presented in Chambers was based on the Constitutional structure of the Guyana Constitution and the doctrine of the separation of powers of the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. Minister Nandlall put forward that each must have functional autonomy in the discharge of their respective functions and the wherewithal to do so. This would include the necessary finances to discharge those functions.
The Minister stated that the actions of the National Assembly have taken away that ability from the Executive, several other constitutional creations, and several other important executive creations, bodies that were created by executive decisions.
The argument also included the contention that the National Assembly rejected the Finance Minister’s estimates, and presented and passed their own estimates. The AG strongly contended that the presentation of estimates to the Assembly is a function that resides exclusively with the Executive, which the Assembly has the power to scrutinise, approve or disapprove, but not the power to reduce.
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) have argued that there is no separation of powers under the Constitution. Their claim that what they did was not unconstitutional, and that “the Order that is being sought here… is unconstitutional…this entire court matter is misconceived and heavily flawed.”
Nevertheless, Minister Nandlall stated that the Opposition has been unable to demonstrate in their arguments that their actions in the National Assembly were constitutional. He said that they were unable to point to the relevant constitutional provisions to show that they have the power to cut the budgeted estimates and expenditures for 2012 as presented by the Minister of Finance.
In April of this year, after the presentation of the National Budget to the National Assembly by the Minister of Finance, and the detailed examination of the estimates by the Opposition benches, it was ruled that the budget be slashed by $20.9B. As a result there were no financial allocations made for several Government agencies, and the jobs of state employees were put on the line.
The agencies affected include the Government Information Agency; National Communications Network; Ethnic Relations Commission which has already paid the price; State Planning Secretariat, Low Carbon Development Strategy for which the Amerindian Community in Guyana is currently paying the price; Guyana Elections Commission; Office of the President the major arm of the Executive; Office of the Prime Minister; ICT development – One Laptop Per Family; Customs Anti Narcotic Unit and the Guyana Power and Light Company.
The lack of funding for these agencies is already being felt, since creditors are wary of continuing to service them, and some have already withdrawn credit pending payment of current bills. In some cases employees who have not yet been paid for the month of June are seriously considering their options.
Lawyers representing the Opposition include, Rex McKay, Robert Corbin, Joseph Harmon, Basil Williams, James Bond, Llewellyn John and Debra Backer. Senior Counsel Ashton Chase is representing the Minister of Finance, while the Government of Guyana is represented by the Attorney General and Trinidadian Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairam.
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