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Govt hints at constitutional challenge to budget disapproval

Guyana’s Attorney General, Anil Nandlall speaking at a US embassy-sponsored reception for World Press Freedom Day 2014.

The Guyana government appears to be laying the legal groundwork to challenge the constitutionality of budget cuts to the state-owned radio and television stations and the Government Information Agency (GINA).

Hint of this came in remarks by Attorney General, Anil Nandlall who said the decision by the combined opposition to vote down the approval of monies to the National Communications Network (NCN) and GINA amounted to a constitutional violation of freedom of expression.

“They are disseminating information of a government and a State to its people who have a constitutional right to receive that information so when we speak about press freedom, we must be holistic and objective and broad in our address of the issue,” Nandlall told a United States-embassy organised reception in observance of World Press Freedom Day.

The opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) used their 33 seats to refuse approval of GUY$139.801 million to GINA and GUY$81.761 million to NCN for recurrent expenditures including salaries. The opposition also voted against capital expenditures for NCN- GUY$60.5 million and GUY$8 million for GINA.

Chiefly, the opposition has refused to give NCN and GINA any money because government has been constantly has been virtually shutting out opposition and other dissenting views from those media while saturating the NCN airwaves and GINA output with government and ruling party information and propaganda.

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, performing the duties of president, on April 30 assented to the Appropriations Bill after any inkling of last-minute talks with the opposition about restoring unapproved amounts to the state media and other areas did not materialize.

Government has said that it would have been examining legal and political options to resolve the matter.

The government has been also lamenting that that the opposition’s decision not to approv funds for several aspects of the operation of the Office of the President was adversely impacting on the president’s security and other executive functions.

The High Court has ruled that the National Assembly cannot reduce budgetary allocations but rather can only approve or disapprove amounts because the budget is the product of the Executive and is the constitutional responsibility of the Finance Minister.

The opposition this year disapproved a total of GUY$37 billion in this year’s National Budget.