Jealous Guarding of the National Purse1816 27 Jun, 2012
Mr. Ramjattan: In relation to the matter at hand, I want to indicate that the National Assembly, which constitutes that important part of Parliament, must jealously guard the content of the purse and the treasury of a country - always. What this motion seeks to do is to emphasise that jealous guarding of the national purse. [Ms. Shadick: It is to zealously guard.] Well, I am saying “jealously”
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Minister, it is a term of art that we lawyers used - “you jealously guard something”. A man can jealously guard a woman or vice versa.
Mr. Ramjattan: It was in that context of that jealous guarding of the public purse that the Financial Management and Accountability Act of 2003 was passed by the PPP/C Government. When I was a Member the rational for it was given for purposes - this is important, Hon. Member Mr. Edghill - of the National Assembly having a hawk eye, an eagle eye, over all public finances. When he mentioned just now, because it amazed me, that public money only in the Consolidated Fund ought to be what should be jealously guarded by the National Assembly it was making the Minister missed the point. [Bishop Edghill: That is a misrepresentation.] Well, I am not misquoting but you are trying to de-emphasise. The Hon. Minister was indicating to this House, from my interpretation of what he said, that there is a hierarchy of the public finance called the Consolidated Fund and the other set of fund called “Extra-budgetary Fund”, where, yes, we should have it, but we should not watch it with that guardian eye as we have with the Consolidated Fund. [An Hon. Member (Government): I have never said that.] Well, that is my opinion. I am indicating, as Mr. Sharma just mentioned… [Mr. Benn: [inaudible]… never said that.] Alright, well whatever it is. Let me just make my point Mr. Benn, you seem to be…
Article 217 (4) states this:
“Parliament may prescribe the manner in which withdrawals may be made from the Consolidated Fund or any other public fund.”
A public fund includes Extra-budgetary Fund, so that is why I did not know what was being made in relation to the point of trying to distinguish them and make them separate.
Section 39 of the 2003 Act then gives teeth to that very important constitutional provision, because we did not have it before, and understand that. It is extremely a good Act, very good Act, and it states quite clearly what and what should happen. In relation to the Consolidated Fund, the Minister of Finance manages that; in relation to Extra-budgetary Funds, certain Acts of Parliament, which create boards or commissions, then manage that, but then they set out a number of requirements. [Ms. Shadick: Is it for the Extra-budgetary Fund?] Yes. It is for the Extra- budgetary Fund that we, in Parliament, too must scrutinise fully. [Mr. Nadir: We agree.] That is right. That is what we are saying that is not happening. We are saying, on this side, through this motion, which I support is indicating, that that is not happening. I will prove just now why it is not happening.
This now comes down to an understanding, not only of section 39, but also section 40. Section 40 states:
“Subject to any other law, resources allocated from any Extra-budgetary Fund for the purpose of financing Government social or economic development projects shall be included in the relevant investment plan and programmes of expenditure contained in the annual budget and such resources shall be processed through the Consolidated Fund.”
[Mr. Nadir: I am listening to you.] Well, I am glad that you are listening. [Mr. Nadir: You are accurate.] That is right. [Mr. Benn: Do not turn your back on the Speaker.] As you know, he has always been saying that to me. I mean there is no disrespect because the microphone is here.
Mr. Speaker: I notice that several Members on both sides turning their backs to me for the day, but I understand, and understood, why it was necessary for them to do so. I know that no contempt or disrespect is meant.
Mr. Ramjattan: Now the law then is clear. There is a constitutional provision that is general and then there are particularisation through the provision of the FM&AA 2003. What we are saying is what we have had, in relation to these extra-budgetary agencies, is not what section 39 of the FM&AA is instructing us to do. We must ensure that there are annual reports in time; we should ensure that there are financials in time; they should be brought to this National Assembly and a lot of them have not been brought. We cannot in anyway say with specificity that this is what indeed is the nature and the content of the public purse, because if they are not brought here and hidden up somewhere and they do not… [Ms. Shadick: They are not hidden anyway.] Whatever it is, I, my dear, am saying it is stealthily been hidden away in a number of accounts and so we do not know, at the end of the year, what are the revenue streams of this country. You would indicate to me that the Consolidated Fund only have $192 billion. We are saying that if we could get all the Extra-budgetary Funds brought here in a more current manner we will be in a position to know that we can spend $292 billion instead of $192 billion. That is what we are asking here. You cannot come and tell us, as the Hon. Member Mr. Edghill was indicating, that the Consolidated Fund, and it is this glass, only has $192 billion and then there is another $100 billion hid away behind Mr. James Bond, and then say, “Well, yes, we are doing a wonderful job with public finances.” No!
I want to tell the Member that there are a number of budget agencies that are making huge sums of money. I, in this National Assembly, during the budget debate and the consideration of the estimates and the questioning, tried to ask some questions about those agencies and I was told that they are not part of the budget so we cannot ask questions about them. Does the Member remember when I asked a question relating to the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU)? Yes, but I just want to tell that Member that it is there. There is the National Frequency Management Unit which does not take any subsidies from Government because it makes a lot of money. This year it will be making $446 million. It is not in the budget; it is an appendix that we cannot question. Is it not self-sufficient? Now, what does it do with that money? The withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund - remember the words in the Constitution - and any other public fund shall be the duty of the National Assembly. What is here, under this $446 million, is that the executive branch has taken upon itself to then go and give a subvention to local authorities of $271 million and we did not approve that. There is an extra-budgetary agency $446 million and then … We do not have any information as to which local authority getting $271 million. We do not know.
Look at page 575, when I proceeded to ask the question about this agency, it was “no”. That was not part of the line items under those agencies. I could not ask the question. I am saying that we are breaching the Constitution and we are breaching the FM&AA by virtue of that. It is not the wrong tree I am heading up, it is the tree that I want to grow more beautifully than what we have here. It is an ugly tree. There is lots of money. Guyana Forestry Commission, $642 million it would make this year. There is the Guyana Gold Board, $108 billion it will make this year. It will be $711 million for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Corporation.
Now we are saying that they are not going to make net at the end of the year, all of that, because they have to do operating cost and the operating cost out of the $108 billion that the Guyana Gold Board will come up, obviously, is a fine sum. From $108 billion that is supposed to be made from the Guyana Gold Board, even if $100 billion is taken as the expenses, there is still $8 billion left and that should now go into the Consolidated Fund. That is what we are saying. It is not just to be kept into its account. There is an obligation as to what are the balances to ensure that they come into the Consolidated Fund.
The “BE IT RESOLVED” clause of this motion is stating, very simply:
“BE IT RESOLVED:
That this House requires the Minister of Finance to lay before it a report on all the extra-budgetary agencies, including the Lotto Fund and the GGMC, all the outstanding reports and quarterly audited accounts as required by the law;…”
They have not been doing that. What is wrong with us asking that that be done? It is just as how the Minister of Home Affairs indicated just now that a ticketing system is going to be set up that will go to the Clerk of the Court and there will be another $300 million, we are saying ensure that we get all the moneys in the Consolidated Fund in a similar manner.
The second resolution here is that the relevant Minister must ensure that all agencies authorised to have Extra-budgetary Funds under the Act and with outstanding reports immediately require to pay the balances into the Consolidated Fund… [Mr. Nadir: Of which date?] The balances as the date of their audited statements, but you do not do it, so you are not in any position to know and that is how you will get away with it. That is what you want to do… and a statement of such payment be submitted to the National Assembly.
As you may see, Mr. Speaker, if we do not do this we would never know of how a set of billions of dollars has been spent just as how the extra-budgetary agency NFMU is now giving local authorities $271 million. What is that? Did we ever pass that here? There is a Constitution that states that every withdrawal of moneys ought to be through the National Assembly, and especially when it is going around as of that $271 million. What we are saying here is please - those were the exercises which had gone back in those days - as of today’s date, from now on, ensure that we comply with the FM&AA, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
This Government spouts about accountability; it spouts a lot of transparency. The President of the country will go all round and indicate that we are all of that. I am urging this National Assembly to ensure that our President is not embarrassed if somebody knowing the facts confronts him with it. All we are asking is that indeed that these moneys go directly into the rightful places and that we, in the National Assembly, be the authority, as we are under the Constitution, to ensure we know where it should be spent.
That is why I want to come back to the point that the legislature is paramount when it comes to the national public purse - the legislative branch. The executive can propose, the legislature dispose. The executive will request, it is the legislature that grants, and we are being sideline of some billions that we are not being allowed to grant and are being usurp by the executive branch when it does, as it does, which is in violation of the FM&AA [An Hon. Member (Opposition): Is it all these years?] It has been happening all these years, but because of this new dispensation we could pass a motion now that it gets in order.
I wish, before I urge the House, to remind Members here that we only, too recently, had two Canadians who came from the Auditor General’s Section of their country, one from Newfoundland and the other one, I think, from the Federal Branch. I was fortunate to be there and they were making the point, when we asked the question of them, of whether in these extra-budgetary agencies, what they called crown corporations,… The Hon. Member Bishop Edghill was right when he said the crown corporation is the equivalent. I happened to be there and I asked a couple of questions of them and they were indicating that indeed all these finances must be consolidated. [Interruption] My goodness! I hope that we have had Hansard there, and we could google it, and it could give us documentations, but that is what they were now trying to say.
We have to understand too, before I take my seat, the origins of these extra-budgetary agencies. Governments over the years have become too packed with work so that is why they have, in a sense, divested themselves of certain operations and they put them under an Act and they create their Commissions and Board of Directors and make their announcements as to who will run it and all of that and that is how it is normally done for purposes of accountability. However, the Government although, in a sense, delegating on to these bodies, statutory boards or commissions the Government and the legislative branch must never take their eyes away. What they are doing by virtue of these statutory bodies - the way they are being performed; the way they are being run and operated - is taking it away from the National Assembly, taking it away from the legislative branch. We, in this National Assembly, will jealously guard our authority over those by virtue of strict adherence to the FM&AA provision, especially sections 39 and 40. What this motion seeks to do is exactly a strict adherence - whatever the balances are put in the Consolidated Fund, whatever reports are to be made, please update them and bring them to this National Assembly so that we can see. There is nothing wrong with that, that will make us a more accountable country and on that score, then, I wish that this be supported.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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