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Gov’t says budget cuts ruling leaves it in precarious position

govt_panel
(L-R) Attorney General Anil Nandlall; Junior Finance Minister Juan Edghill; Prime Minister Samuel Hinds; Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh; and Works Minister Robeson Benn.

The government says the decision by the Speaker of the National Assembly to allow cuts to the budget estimates despite the Chief Justice’s preliminary ruling to the contrary has left it in a precarious position.

At a news briefing called during the break in Tuesday’s consideration of the estimates Attorney General Anil Nandlall said he was convinced that there was a “serious conceptual difficulty” in understanding the constitutional role of the National Assembly.

“On the one hand we have the court ruling in a particular manner specifically to say that in accordance with the constitution of Guyana the National Assembly has no power to cut. That institution call the judiciary under our constitutional construct is the final arbiter on what the constitution says and what the constitution means.

On the other hand you have the National Assembly … has proceeded to pronounce that it has the power to cut. So we have now a situation of utter and complete confusion,” Nandlall said.

He added that he believed the situation would be further compounded when acting Chief Justice Ian Chang gives his final ruling on the challenge to last year’s budget cuts since it was unlikely to depart from his preliminary pronouncements.

“As Attorney General I find myself in some great difficulty in advising the government; which one of these institutions pronouncement we should follow? Should we follow the parliament, the Speaker’s ruling, should we follow the court?” Nandlall queried.

He added that he had written Justice Chang voicing their preference for an early closure of the issue.

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh, described it as an “extremely precarious position” and stated that the cuts were without merit and went to the core of important development projects.

According to Dr. Singh he remained hopeful that the opposition would vote on the merit of the allocations and in favour of the budget as presented.

When asked why go through with the consideration of the estimates if they believed the Speaker’s ruling was in error Nandlall noted that the constitution required that a budget be in place by April 30.

“We are doing that as we did in 2012 and then we take it from there but the government cannot bring the nation’s business to a halt as a result of irrationality of a majority in the National Assembly or we would be succumbing to that irrationality,” he said.

Asked if the government was prepared to reject the amended budget and go to the polls the minister responded that their priority was to ensure they complied with all of the laws and discharge their responsibilities as the government.  

“If we are prevented from so doing and election is the only alternative to which we can resort other than by instruction of the national interest then I presume that our choices would have been extremely confined to that one option.”

Public Works Minister Robeson Benn who was also on the panel of ministers at the press conference pointed out that there were cuts for the Guyana Elections Commission were among the GUY$35.5B proposed by the AFC.

“One wonders when we get to the details what shape the Guyana Elections Commission would be in to in fact run any elections given these proposals and what will turn out from the Committee of Supply.”