May 07, 2013 - The Fiscal Management And Accountability (Amendment) Bill 20131843 07 May, 2013
Mr. Greenidge (replying): Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I start by saying I utterly reject the suggestion that the Bill, for any reason, needs to be withdrawn. I also wish to draw to your attention the article of the Constitution which has prompted this Bill, reminding you again that having recognised the failure of the Government to respect article 222A(a), we have explored all the possibilities of getting the Government to do what it was supposed to do. What did it do? It merely amended the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act by way of an order laid by the Minister to bring the Audit Office within the ambit of the Constitution.
For all of that talk about article 164, let me just remind this House that although the Audit Office was removed, the courts were not removed as part of this Schedule. The courts are here – the lower courts and the Ombudsman. They have not been removed. That means that in spite of the fact that these entities should have been treated in the same way as the Audit Office and the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), they are treated completely differently with no bloc vote. That is the reality. So let us not engage in sophistry about article 164 whether there was oversight or no oversight. Nobody has so far disputed the fact that the schedule to article 222A states very explicitly, very clearly, very unambiguously, that the bodies that are here – the Rights of the Child Commission, the Judiciary and the Office of the Auditor General… That is what is stated here, Mr. Speaker, and if you look at the Estimates, you will find that in the section that deals with lump sum or bloc votes, page 398 of these Estimates, you will find no reference to the courts; you will find only reference to the Audit Office and the ERC. So it is no wonder that the Hon. Juan Edghill is happy and comfortable to come here and tell us all sorts of Anansi stories because the entity for which he has constitutional oversight got its money by way of bloc vote. And that may have to do with the fact that he was performing that role. But the point is that the Constitution is clear. It states all these entities, not only the Audit Office. These speakers have not attempted, at any point, to explain this dichotomy. What is it that justifies treating the ERC, a waste of time institution in terms of its day to day work, not properly constituted…? What is it that requires the ERC to be treated in a manner that is superior to the courts? [Mr. R. Persaud: How can you say that the ERC is a waste of time?] Yes, because it is not properly constituted and it has done nothing. [Mr. R. Persaud: It is about the concept.] I am not talking about the concept. That is you. What about the concept of the courts? The courts should have been treated in the same way as the ERC.
As regards the arguments made by the distinguished Members on the other side, let me just make a few observations, specifically. The Bill that is before this House does not seek, in any way, to reallocate the role and responsibility of the Executive or of the Legislature. Again, let me remind you that the responsibilities and roles of these entities are clearly set out in the Constitution. The Constitution leaves this Assembly with the role of receiving proposals for annual estimates and for approving them. That remains the case. Also, as regards the Constitution, article 222A, which the Minister conveniently refused to cite, let me read for you so that we can understand why it is that the Audit Office and the ERC should be treated differently from the law courts, for example. Let us not bother with the others. Let us just deal with the law courts. The law courts are critical to our rights; our fundamental rights lie right there. Even before we turn to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)... This is a country where youngsters have been thrown in jail for painting the road. A youngster has been jailed for pointing a finger at the President. These are the things that have happened. And in relation to the role of the DPP, these are powers that are important to our rights.
As regards this Constitution, article 222A… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Allow Mr. Greenidge to complete, please.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, we are hearing the height of silliness. The fact that a matter has been dismissed does not mean the person was not in prison before the matter was dismissed. You can be accused of treason and the matter can be dismissed but you can still spend five years in jail. What are we being told here? [Ms. Teixeira: It was a pardon; it was not a dismissal.] Rest yourself.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, lower the temperature, please.
Mr. Greenidge: As regards article 222A, in order to assure independence of the entities… I was happy that the Attorney General was so committed, in principle it appears, to the question of the independence and autonomy of the Judiciary and of these fundamental entities. Article 222A states - reminding you that the courts are in that Schedule:
“In order to assure the independence of the entities listed in the Third Schedule –
(a) the expenditure of each of the entities shall be financed as a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund,”
That is the case now.
“...determined as a lump sum by way of an annual subvention approved by the National Assembly...”
We have approved no such subvention for the Judiciary. Since 2003, we have operated under the aegis of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, the importance of which was highlighted both by the Minister of Finance and the distinguished Attorney General. I agree entirely with them on both of those that the role of this Act is fundamental as regards these entities because it determines the process by which they are treated and why some entities are treated differently. The Fiscal Management and Accountability Act is an Act of Parliament. It is an Act of this Assembly. It is not a substitute or a replacement for the Constitution. So when the Constitution states that entities shall be enjoying lump sum payments, then the Government is out of order by suggesting – which it has on more than one occasion, including the debate to which it made reference – that one cannot rely on these entities to manage their own business or they do not have sufficiently strong accounting sections and so forth. If that is the case, let the Government go and change the Constitution. You cannot infringe the Constitution in order to satisfy a law. You have to change the law to keep the law in line with the Constitution. Get your priorities right!
Before we are told once more, quite erroneously and sometimes deliberately erroneously, that one cannot allow an entity to name a figure and commit the Government to any fiscal numbers without reference to the Ministry of Finance and to the Government’s fiscal policy, let me just remind you of two things: one is that fiscal management has to do with ex-ante and ex-post. In other words, what is beforehand, and when the entity has received the money, whether it spends it in accordance with the rules set out that govern appropriation.
The Constitution is again very clear. The second part of article 222A (a) states very simply that in relation to the annual subvention approved by the National Assembly, after review and approval of the entity’s annual budget as part of the process of determination of the annual budget. There is nothing whatsoever – I emphasise this – in the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act which seeks to remove the process of review. In fact, what it does is require that the request from the agency comes directly to the National Assembly and the Assembly knows what is submitted. The Minister then has to give his justification and explanation if he wants the figure changed. But in the first instance, the entity is required to be in receipt of the guidelines from the Minister. The Minister of Finance, in keeping with the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, draws guidelines which are sent out roughly around July to September. Those guidelines govern all the entities as regards financing and the submission… [Interruption]
As regards the other points about the reallocation of roles, let me say that the bogey that is being raised about the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the like… Let me remind my colleagues that the second half of this article 222A is (b) which states:
“each entity shall manage its subvention in such manner as it deems fit for the efficient discharge of its functions, subject only to conformity with the financial practices and procedures approved by the National Assembly to ensure accountability; and all revenues [unlike many of the other agencies governed and chaired by the Minister] shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund.”
Is this unclear? It is not unclear to me? You cannot infer from that that the Judiciary will have the powers to appropriate and spend as it likes moneys in the manner National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) does.
As regards the question of the Public Accounts Committee which I started to make reference to, I just want to remind the House that the Audit Act of 2004 is quite clear as regards the reporting mechanisms. You, yourself, Mr. Speaker, will recall that you are responsible for submitting to the House the Audit Reports that are submitted by the Auditor General. Let me just read it in case you have forgotten:
“The Auditor General shall, in accordance with article 223 (3) of the Constitution, submit his reports to the Speaker of the National Assembly, who shall cause them to be laid before the Assembly.”
[Dr. Singh: You are the one who attempted to submit it on the Speaker’s behalf in 2011.] You had your turn.
And just in case anyone is mislead by the spurious suggestions by both the Attorney General and the Minister of Finance that somehow in crafting this Bill some special powers have been given to the Public Accounts Committee and its Chair, let me read Part VII of the Audit Act, Finance and Responsibility of the Audit Office. It states in section 40 (2):
“For the removal of doubt, at an appropriate time within the timetable…”
This was a question put by the distinguished Minister, Juan Edghill.
“For the removal of doubt, at an appropriate time within the timetable established by the Minister responsible for finance…”
That is another question he raised.
“…for the preparation of the annual budget proposal –
(a) the Auditor General shall prepare, in accordance with the rules, procedures and guidelines set out in the Budget Circular, and submit to the Public Accounts Committee…”
That is the Act passed by the other side. It is the Public Accounts Committee. It has nothing to do with Greenidge. We have entered the realm in which the Government finds refuge in demonising, misrepresenting individuals when it cannot defend the policies it proposes.
This legislation was passed by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government and the legislation states very clearly – and clearly they anticipated there would be doubt – “for the removal of doubt”. It is also very clear in stating that the Auditor General shall prepare - coming back to the allegation made earlier that it is the Chairman who was planning to prepare – in accordance with the rules, procedures and guidelines set out in the Minister’s Budget Circular. So everybody must know what the guidelines are and they have to live within those guidelines. There is no special privilege in that sense. The privilege that the courts enjoy is the privilege of having their moneys set out in the same way as the entity presided over, until recently, by Hon. Juan Edghill. The reason for that is very simple. If you look at the tables which characterise the lower courts… I am not going to bother with the others because the same thing applies here. The Attorney General complained that we had not mentioned mutatis mutandis. I do not think we have missed anything. The point is this: if you have a look at anyone of these pages – Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Culture, Youth and sport, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Director of Public Prosecutions – you will find that the Estimates set out in fine detail the specifics of every category of expenditure. Why is this a problem? It is a problem because prior to the receipt of the money, the Minister of Finance and his officials may go through the Estimates, modify the lines… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Members would have seen a list circulated. The Hon. Minister has asked to see some specific years. They have been brought up and provided and there is an issue that has since arisen.
Go ahead, please, Mr. Greenidge.
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wonder only whether it is a matter of life and death that requires the interruption of my presentation. I would not have done that to the Minister and this seems to be in keeping with the behaviour… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Are you finished, Mr. Greenidge?
Mr. Greenidge: Sorry, Mr. Speaker, I did not hear you. May I continue?
Mr. Speaker: Yes.
Mr. Greenidge: What I am saying is that the Estimates are crafted in a manner deliberately to enable control of the agencies that are listed as budgetary agencies. That is the purpose. Nobody must deny that because it would not make sense otherwise. Beforehand, the Minister and his officers or his officers alone may take a line and reduce it or remove it. If the line, for example, contains investigations of a certain nature or concerns travel, it can affect the operations of the entity meaning that its independence can be compromised. The autonomy of the entity can be compromised.
May I also say to you, Mr. Speaker, that if you look at the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, you will find that section 11 allows the secretary to summon and get details from the head of the agency in question, the Judiciary, for example. Section 11 (2) states:
“The head of a budgetary agency shall provide [the law courts or the DPP] the Finance Secretary any information [it is unqualified]…”
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, I protest, I challenge, the assertion of the Hon. Member that it is unqualified. The Finance Secretary can request information with request to financial implications.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, I have no interest in the view of the Prime Minister on this matter because I am not giving a view; I am reading the legislation, Mr. Prime Minister. Your interpretation is a matter for us to exchange in the coffee bar. [Mr. Hinds: You have not read all of it, only a part of it.] Let me remind you what the legislation states: “The head of a budget agency…” And if “any” does not mean unqualified then our understanding of the English language is clearly different so there is no point in us arguing.
“The head of the budget agency shall provide any information that is requested concerning the affairs of the budget agency.”
Any! It does not state ‘some’ or ‘financial information’; it states “any information”. You tell me that that is not unqualified.
The issue is not one for debate. This is very clear, strong and unambiguous. In normal circumstances, I would have no problem with it. What I am saying is that I did not envisage and I am sure that the Constitution itself could not sensibly envisage that the Finance Secretary should be in a position to quiz a member of the Judiciary, whether it be a Chancellor or the Registrar, in this way. For that reason, it must be removed. That is my point!
Mr. Speaker, therefore, as regards the question of new powers and issues of that sort, let me make it clear that as far as I am concerned, these arguments are purely diversionary, in keeping with the type of presentation we heard in which the Attorney General could be telling us things, accusing the Bill of carrying things that it did not carry.
We are into all sorts of forms of diversion, comic relief perhaps, too much pressure, too much tension, as well as simple misinformation. At no point does the legislation seek to do anything other than the following - I will make this point for emphasis- It seeks to ensure that the constitutional agencies receive, as does the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) and the Auditor General, a lump sum for its annual allocation. It seeks to ensure that when agencies make the request they will submit details; there is no question about that. The same thing happens as regards the statutory agencies which the House does not change and cannot change. They are reflected in the Budget as lump sums in one place and the details are provided elsewhere, but one does not go through them in the details that are gone through here. They are given lump sums and those lump sums cannot be changed afterwards by a Minister.
In other words, right now we have had many instances… [Interruption] Instead of the Attorney General dealing with what is before him he is making up stories and heckling. We would have been spared this embarrassment if he had looked at the legislation. Right now the Minister of Finance and his Finance Secretary may decide that exigencies can justify not disbursing any or disbursing with delay the money that is due to an agency. I do not know whether I am making myself clear. This House can approve an amount for the judiciary. [Interruption] Another one that does not understand anything. This House can approve an amount for the judiciary and then that judiciary can find itself not in receipt of the moneys approved by this House after review because the Minister does not find it convenient or the Executive decides it is not convenient. Can that be an independent agency? Can this be autonomy? Our colleague… [Interruption] That is your interpretation; go and have a look at the statutes.
The Constitution requires that a lump sum be awarded to the entity after review by the Parliament. What we are saying is not only must the failure to submit a lump sum be discontinued but that after the amount is approved it must be disbursed within a limited period of time, otherwise no autonomy exists. We have colleagues who try to divert attention from the substantive issues. Nobody on the other side has addressed this issue but instead they are giving us all sorts of round-the-town stories. [Interruption] Our colleague just referred to the attempt on the other side of the House to turn giants into dwarfs. When I hear that noise from the other side I understand what he means. [Ms. Teixeira: Do not be upset.… It is alright. I am with you.] I am not short of anything Madam. I am short of nothing. If you want to measure, measure me from the neck up.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members let the debate be centred on the Speaker’s Chair, please. Allow the debate to come to the Speaker’s Chair.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, we were asked about the presentation…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member when you said you were short of nothing, I noticed Mr. Lumumba got very animated, I do not know what troubled him, but you go ahead.
Mr. Greenidge: Sometimes it is functionally necessary to be animated. It serves a function. What I am saying is that at this point in time who will answer the question that was put for these agencies. I am saying to you, Mr. Speaker, the question arises because our colleagues are deliberately and otherwise, and I do not want to be uncharitable, confusing the approval of appropriation with implementation. This House has the responsibility to receive, review, and approve, appropriations. What we are doing in relation to these agencies is requiring that the appropriation for these entities, the constitutional entities, come directly to the House. It is the House that reviews and approves them. That is what the Constitution requires. At this point in time, that is not the case. The House having to review them, will review them on the basis of advice, one, from the Minister of Finance. That is specifically set out. His role is not diminished in the sense that he comes to the House and he has to bring his argument here to the House. If the House is persuaded it may modify the proposal, nothing stops it modifying the proposal. And nothing allows the Chancellor to have any amount he requests. You, Mr. Speaker, raised this very point when we were dealing with this matter as a motion. I do not know why people are bringing it back again. It is clear; we have set it out here. The guidelines of the Minister of Finance have to be respected by the agency. The agency asked for an amount, the Minister sends in his proposals in time for the House to take them into account in its deliberations; having taken them into account they agree to a sum and the Minister incorporates it into the budget. It is the Executive’s budget. He brings the Appropriation Bill; the Budget having been amended accordingly he will report to the House that the House has approved the Appropriation Bill as amended or without amendments, and it goes forward in the same manner as all the other modifications or changes that he has experienced in the past. I hope now our good colleague on the other side understands what is being proposed here. We have two purposes in this item, to ensure the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act does not override Article 222A of the Constitution. That is the first and most important point. If colleagues on the other side… [Interruption] Thank you very much Mr. G. Persaud. It has taken you not very long and I hope that the others would have already been persuaded. I am saying that the intention here is to ensure the House is aware of what the agencies ask for. It is the House that determines what they receive and the House will know that once it has approved sums for these particular agencies they cannot be modified. That is not something peculiar to the Constitution. Agencies at the back of the Estimates, and I noted when we had moved to the Estimates suddenly there was the diversion about another story. I hope it is not going to recur.
The Estimates here have at the back a set of statutory bodies. These statutory bodies, if you like you can see what we are trying to do in two ways. There are the budgetary agencies which have been defined in the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and which the Minister can change before they come to Parliament. He can modify the flow of funds after the Parliament has… I have to say as you know “easy lesson…” Do you know that story? That is one category of expenditure.
There is another category of expenditure which applies to the statutory agencies. Let me just refer you to, somewhere around the page Roman XII of the Estimates, the Preface. The Preface starts with an Introduction, as is normal, which explains that the amounts being requested for appropriation are of two types. I am saying to you this is inaccurate, there are three. The two types are statutory, these are the expenditures for which the Government has already through Parliament or otherwise committed itself and, therefore, like debt repayments you cannot modify them. The House can look at them, enjoy them, get high blood pressure over them, but they cannot modify them. These are the statutory payments. These are listed at the back of the Estimates in Part 5.
In relation to the appropriated expenditures, these are the ones we normally spend time reviewing. I am saying to you there is a third category. That category comes to this House and the House reviews. Unlike the statutory expenditures this House reviews those proposals, it decides on the proposals and then it approves them. When this House shall have approved proposals the Minister cannot modify them afterwards. They are equivalent, if you like, to demi- or semi-statutory expenditures. I hope that is clear. In other words, they can be modified beforehand but after approval by the House they cannot be modified by the Minister. That means they cannot be exploited and the autonomy of the agency cannot be undermined by fiscal or arithmetic manipulation. I hope that is clear.
There are, I believe, a couple of other queries or questions raised. [Interruption] Thank you very much, you are very generous, and I shall take full and merciless use of your largesse. The point is as regards the budgeting process; let us be clear on that. If you take the Public Accounts Committee or the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Chambers, or whatever fancy term the lawyers grace it with, the idea is as of now they prepare annual estimates in accordance with the guidelines of the Minister of Finance. They will continue to do that. Nobody takes that responsibility from them. Having prepared them, in the case of the Public Accounts Committee, they arrive in this Parliament merely through the instrumentality of the Public Accounts Committee and the Chair. The Public Accounts Committee carries out a function which is specified in an act. It is not specified in this Bill. As regards the other constitutional offices the process is the same but the conduit in this case is the Clerk of the National Assembly. And the idea is not that the Clerk seeks to defend it, he ensures that the request comes unmodified to the House. In other words, he receives it and transmits it as is received. The review takes place in here; the questions about it are put right here in this National Assembly. It touches in no way the responsibilities and powers of the Executive except that it seeks to ensure that the House itself is given its full role in accordance with the Constitution. Article 222A says they must get a lump sum, the House must review that lump sum, and it must approve it. Now, can I accuse someone else of usurping my responsibilities when some of those responsibilities I am currently exercising are unconstitutional, are someone else’s responsibilities. I cannot. So the idea, the suggestion, repeated so often by the other side that we are seeking to take away responsibilities of the Executive are entirely fictitious, worse than the Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO). They are figments of the imagination. They seem to be the reflections of delusions of grandeur. The responsibility for approving appropriations is the House’s, not the Minister’s. We seem to be getting confused by arguing that it is the Minister’s. You have been arguing Mr. Attorney General that these powers…
Mr. Speaker: Keep it this way. You have been doing well so far. [Mr. Seeraj: Keep it calm there Carl.]
Mr. Greenidge: I am quite calm. I thank you my colleague for the advice.
As regards the process, therefore, and who has responsibility for defending the fiscal performance, there is no change. The Executive will have made a written input into the fashioning of these figures. They will inform the House; the House will take a decision, and in keeping with all other expenditures, they are responsible for implementing. If they fail, and it is surprising they should be worried at this stage about failing because nothing would have been changed from what has been going on in the past. That is, they will still continue to be responsible for implementation and performance in relation to these areas.
As regards the question of Article 222A therefore, there should be no doubt that the legislation here does not even require that the amendments, which are already before the President, be signed. In other words, this legislation does not have to be modified by anything that was done before. It is self standing, very clear. We are arguing here that the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act requires that the process currently in place be modified. That is what we are proposing to do. It also says that the legislation before you is legislation which is intended to ensure that the financial management of the Parliament is reinforced and in keeping with what is set out here.
Let me just remind you of something, Mr. Speaker. I am saying it matters not one iota whether Article 222A and the annex to it is complete or not. Even the entities that are set out in 222A have not been subject to the requirements of 222A as set out in the Constitution. The Government has refused and failed to explain why they have, one, not honoured the obligations of the Constitution and, two, have not sought in any of the presentations to justify why they cannot implement what is here in the Constitution. In the light of that my task is very simple. It is to invite those who are willing to see, those who are willing to look, and those who have the paramountcy of the Constitution at heart, to support this Bill and ensure it is passed as presented to you.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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