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High Court rules against budget cut; Ramjattan to appeal

The High Court on Wednesday ruled that the Opposition could not cut the National Budget, leaving it with the option to vote down sections of or the entire package of proposed expenditures.

“In the circumstances, the court sees it fit to declare that the National Assembly through the Committee of Supply has acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally in purporting to reduce or cut the estimates of expenditure of the Minister of Finance for the financial year 2012.

“The court further sees it fit to further declare that the power of the National Assembly is limited to giving or withholding its approval for the Minister’s estimates when those estimates are laid before the National Assembly for its approval under Article 128 of the Constitution,” states the ruling.

Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, however, said he would appeal the ruling by Chief Justice Ian Chang.

He has 14 days within which to move to the Court of Appeal.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall welcomed Chang’s decision, saying it was in keeping with his original position that the opposition which controls the 65-member House by one seat. “The government has been vindicated. We have resolutely maintained over the last two years that the clear language of the Constitution as well as the doctrine of separation of powers prevent the opposition in the National Assembly from cutting the National Estimates,” he said.

The opposition in 2012 and 2013 voted down to GUY$1.00 budgetary allocations for entities like the Government Information Agency (GINA) and the National Communications Network (NCN).

Nandlall reiterated that the presentation of the National Budget was a function of the Minister of Finance and the National Assembly could approve or disapprove the estimates.

On the matter of the National Assembly could govern itself in such matters by the Standing Orders, the High Court ruled that they could not override the Constitution because they are rules of procedure rather than law and do not confer a power on the National Assembly.

Ramjattan, for his part, said his appeal would rest on what he termed an “error” in the Chief Justice’s decision because the Committee of Supply of the National Assembly has the “power of the purse”. “We can amend budgetary allocations, we can amend estimates and that is why in the Committee of Supply- we do what we do. Each line-item has to be approved and the yes vote and the no vote has to be made,” he said

Considering the High Court’s decision, the AFC Leader said it reduced the National Assembly, including the Committee of Supply, to a “rubber stamp of the Executive branch.” “We are going to settle it right up to the highest court because it is a matter that must be settled once and for all,” he said.

Ramjattan reiterated that the Opposition felt that it still has the power under the Westminster type parliament.