Finance minister says budget cuts could harm Guyana’s development

“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,” said Attorney General Anil Nandlall.

On Tuesday, the Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman ruled that the opposition could amend the 2013 national budget, rekindling fears that the opposition would use its slender one seat majority to cut government expenditure as it did last year.

Finance Minister Singh on March 25 presented a GUY$208.8 billion (One Guyana dollar = US$0.01 cents) budget that the government said would continue with the socio-economic development of the country, but which the opposition claimed did not deal with issues such as poverty.

Trotman said that while the Constitution remains silent on the issue, it would be absurd to think the people’s representatives could not amend the budget.

“It has been suggested in this House that because the word amendment is not included in the constitution’s language that the National Assembly cannot amend the estimates. This in my humble opinion is quite a quantum leap to take. If taken to its logical conclusion its manifest absurdity is immediately evident,” he added.

But Nandlall, speaking at a news conference said he was convinced that there was a “serious conceptual difficulty” in understanding the constitutional role of the National Assembly and that 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.

“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 said.

He told reporters he had also written Justice Chang voicing a preference for an early closure of the issue.

Singh warned that the government was now in an “extremely precarious position” and that the cuts were without merit and went to the core of important development projects.

But he was hopeful that the opposition would vote on the merit of the allocations and in favour of the budget as presented.

“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.

But he hinted at an early poll, if the government was not satisfied with cuts made to its fiscal policies.

“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.”

In the last general elections, the combined opposition of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) won 33 of the 65 seats in the National Assembly with the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) winning the remaining 32 seats.

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