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UPDATED: Parties agree to budget amendments sub-committee

Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman

Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman has crafted a measure to clear the way for the National Assembly to consider amendments to the budget in light of the High Court’s ruling that only the executive could do so.

In a written opinion read out in the Hosue before the start of Wednesday’s sitting the Speaker said that the court could not fetter the activities of the National Assembly but added that he was ever mindful of the need to respect the judiciary.

Following a meeting with party leaders before the start of the sitting Trotman announced the proposal for a body to be established to consider amendments to the estimates.

“A sub-committee of the Committee of Supply will be constituted and which will have no less than seven members comprising, four Members from the Opposition and three Members from the Government, and to be chaired by the Speaker.

The purpose of this Committee will be to examine proposals for amendments and to find consensus or agreement where possible, and thereafter to report to the Committee of Supply,” he said.

Demerara Waves Online News later learnt that the parties had agreed to the formation of the sub-committee though the government side had called for equal representation on it. A source told Demwaves that the request was accepted in principle though a final decision on it was pending.

The Speaker noted that it would be up to the government to either accept or reject the amendments. The sub-committee is expected to allow the National Assembly to comply with the court’s ruling while doing away with the government’s complaint that the opposition was encroaching on its executive rights.

Leader of the Opposition David Granger in his budget debate presentation Tuesday had called for the establishment of a permanent parliamentary “Office of the Budget” to ensure opposition input in the estimates and the sub-committee appears to be a tentative step in a similar direction.

However, Trotman rejected acting Chief Justice Ian Chang’s ruling that the opposition had acted unlawfully in cutting the budget previously.

“It is my considered opinion that despite the views and opinions of the High Court, the decision does not, and indeed cannot, do harm to the National Assembly’s procedures for treating with the Estimates of Expenditure. This is so because Article 165 (1) of the Constitution is pellucid in its intention as it states:-

“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the National Assembly may regulate its own procedure and may make rules for that purpose.”

No court can interfere with or fetter this right. This right has been universally recognised and upheld even in the High Court of Guyana in the 1963 case of Jagan et al -v- Gajraj. For this reason I utterly reject the notion that the National Assembly can act unlawfully in the exercise of its functions as prescribed above,” he stated.

The consideration of the estimates began with the agriculture sector.   

Meanwhile, the government and opposition also reached an agreement to have several constitutional agencies currently being treated as budget agencies removed from under the finance ministry in keeping with a constitutional requirement.

The opposition had proposed a motion that the consideration of the estimates be postponed until the entities were removed. They include the Guyana Elections Commission, the Office of the Auditor General, several constitutional rights and services commissions; and the judiciary.

The APNU had contended that having the bodies funded under the finance ministry affected their independence.