The National Assembly on Thursday passed the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill, thus making the legislation an Act of Parliament and guaranteeing the financial independence of several constitutional bodies.
As was the case on all previous sittings of the 11th Parliament, the opposition party – The Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) – did not show up, and as such did not contribute to discussions on the proposed legislation.
The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill was first introduced in the 10th Parliament in 2013. The proposed legislation was piloted by then Shadow Finance Minister, now Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greendge. The amendment bill was passed despite government’s disapproval, owing to the superior numbers of the then so-called combined opposition of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC). Former president Donald Ramotar, however, had refused to give his assent to the amendment bill as he believed that its provisions were in conflict with the supremacy clause of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana – Article 8.
In the amendment bill’s explanatory memorandum, it is stated that the bill “seeks to amend the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act…to extend the application of the Act to the responsible Minister and (ii) to establish financial independence of certain Constitutional entities…to specifically allow for lump sum payments to be made for these Agencies and free them from the automatic obligations of Budgetary Agencies and the discretionary powers exercised by the minister of Finance over Budgetary Agencies, which obligations compromise their independence…”
Presenting the principal speech on the bill, Finance Minister, Winston Jordon, focused heavily on several provisions. For instant, Section 3 (b) (7) provides that “the annual budget of a Constitutional Agency approved by the National Assembly shall not be altered without the prior approval of the National Assembly.” Section 3 (b) (4) of the proposed legislation would allow “the format of the annual budget of the Constitutional Agencies shall be as determined by the Head of each Agency in consultation with the Minister of Finance.”
Though these bodies will be given advanced financial autonomy, Section 80C of the proposed legislation serves to enhance accountability and transparency as it requires that “Annual Reports and Audited Financial Statements shall be prepared and presented as required by Section 80 for Statutory Bodies and references to the Minister shall be construed for the purpose as references to the official in charge of the Constitutional Agency.”
Quite importantly, under the principal act, a Minister was not subject to certain penalties set out in Section 85, only an “official. However, Section 85A of the proposed legislation demands that “The Principal Act shall apply mutatis mutandis (meaning with those things having been changed) to a Minister as it applies to an official.”
Section 85 of the principal act demands that officials, and with the amendment bill, any Minister, who “falsifies any account statement, receipt or other record…conspires or colludes with any other persons to defraud the State…knowingly permits any other person to contravene any provision of this Act…is guilty of an indictable offence and liable on conviction to a fine of two million dollars and to imprisonment for three years.”
In his presentation Jordon exclaimed that the amendment bill has been “given a new lease on life,” while noting its “long tumultuous journey” which started in 2013.
The provisions of the amendment bill, Jordon said, imbues the named constitutional bodies with “certain powers functions and obligations which cannot be arbitrarily interfered with not least the executive.”
In Jordon’s view, these bodies “must enjoy fiscal autonomy so that they can…serve the Guyanese people,” and he believes that the proposed legislation will prevent “the Executive from micromanaging the finances of budget agencies.”
In his contribution to the debate on the bill, Greenidge said that the proposed legislation, once implemented, will strike “down provisions which sought to undermine the independence of those bodies.”
Among the agencies singled out for such independence are the Public Service Commission, the Police Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission and the Parliament Office.