The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 20131855 10 Jan, 2013
Mr. B. Williams: If it pleases you Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the amendment to the Schedule in the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act or Bill, as laid by the Hon. Member, Mr. Carl Greenidge.
Section 82 makes provision for amending the Schedule and if one was to have the course to the definition section of the Act, section 2, they would see a devised Budget Agency and this really is the crux of the matter. Head of Budget Agencies is also define and the schedule of Budget Agencies. I believe it is important to recognise that Budget Agencies means a public entity for which one or more appropriations are made, which is named in the schedule. Another important definition is Head of Budget Agency, which includes a Permanent Secretary, Acting Permanent Secretary or other officials as maybe designated by the Finance Secretary pursuant to another section of the Act.
So what this means is, if we were to look merely at this Act, one would not get the real appreciation as to what is the remedy or the mischief that we are seeking to remedy in this proposed Bill. So we must start with the National Constitution which would explain why we have come with this proposed amendment.
Before 2001 the Constitution itself expressly delineated commissions and other institutions that were supposed to be independent. There was not any Schedule. Basically, they were independent and a common thread for independence was that they were not accountable to anyone, for example, in the execution of their duties and also that they were entitled to lump sum payments. In fact, in relations to Service Commissions Article 226 clearly speaks to the independence, 226 (1):
“Save as otherwise provided in this Constitution, in the exercise of its functions under this Constitution a Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
This was very clear. Article 226 (7) defines what is meant by the expression “Commission” and this is said to include the Election Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission, or the Police Service Commission. So before 2001, when Article 222A came into existence, the Constitution was very clear about what institutions were to be independent. You had the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, Article 215A, speaks to the independence of that body, along with the Auditor General. The Hon. Member spoke about the correcting of the situation with the Auditor General and there were no difficulties in that regard.
Suddenly in 2001, Article 222A came into being and perpetrated to create a Schedule, which is the Third Schedule, to list the independent entities. That is where the whole problem was created, because they omitted, in that Schedule which is very short, what was helter to independent bodies and institutions and we wondered why they did that, because this was 2001. So all they had really was the judiciary and the Office of the Auditor General listed here, but you did not have the tradition Service Commissions and the other Commissions like GECOM and the like. One wondered why you would have to go and create a Schedule for that purpose.
Then two years later we have the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and then you understood what was happening, because it all had to do with political control of these institutions. [Mr. Nandall: Mr. Roopnarine sat on the Commission.] I see the Hon. Attorney General is animated and he is anticipating me. What happened was that in that Act they perpetrated to create another Schedule and Institutions called Budget Agencies, headed by Permanent Secretaries. What this meant was that the Head of these Budget Agencies had control over the revenues of any institution listed in the Schedule to Fiscal Management and Accountability Act; in other words when you look at the Act, all the traditional independent entities are listed there, all without fear, let or hindrance.
So it meant that what was being essayed on the part of the Government was an intention to control everything, every institution in this country via the means of the Budget Agency. As the old well worn aphorism says, “Who pays the piper calls the tune”. What it meant was this ... [interruption] The Parliament is coming alive. Let us take GECOM first, remember Article 226 said that it is independent. When it was made a Budget Agency what happened was that the Head of the Presidential Secretariat became the head of the Budget Agency; in other words the Office of the President was now in control of the finances of GECOM. And, what happened? Well I do not know if Dr. Roger Luncheon was working at the Ministry of Finance; I do not know if Dr. Luncheon at the time...
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, as a matter of factual correction...
Mr. B. Williams: You have to say what you are standing up on.
Dr. Singh: As a matter of factual correction; that is what I am getting up to do.
Mr. B. Williams: No, you cannot ... I do not have to sit for that. You have to get up on a proper basis.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I recognise the Minister of Finance.
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, just to correct Mr. Williams that the Head of the Presidential Secretariat was at no point in time... [Mr. Greenidge: Hold a press conference.] Are you still wounded from that occasion?
As a point of clarification the Head of the Presidential Secretariat was never designated the head of any Budget Agency.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you.
Mr. Williams: I am saying Mr. Speaker, from personal experience, from dealing with the matter that direct permission on Line Items for the expenditure on items for GECOM had to be given by Dr. Roger Luncheon, as the Head of the Agency. I am saying that. [Interruption] What did that mean? It meant... [Interruption] You know I do not want to talk about grades you know. It meant that in the run up to the 2006 Election, remember this Act was 2003, it meant that in the run-up, the Office of the President, through that Budget Agency arrangement, exercise control over the business of GECOM certainly by means of whether they were going to release moneys for certain expenditures or not. That is exactly what happened.
I recalled major things like bio, when we wanted to have finger printing and those other safeguards introduced, the bio-metrics, we could not get anything off the ground, because it was Dr. Luncheon who had to give the permission. So it transpired that this mechanism of Budget Agencies was really what, my Honourable Venerable Friend, Mr. Ramjattan described as, “Control Freakism”.
Now let us look at the doctrine of separation of powers – the Executive must be separate from the Judiciary and from Parliament. You made Parliament a Budget Agency; it means that moneys for Parliament, in terms of releases, etc, are determined by the Head of the Budget Agency for Parliament. Would anyone care to tell me who the Head of the Budget Agency for Parliament is? [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, could we have some order? The truth is the things that we are seeking to amend today have been there from time immemorial. It was not as if it was put by one against another, it has been there. We are now seeking to regularise things, but they have been there for a long time. Proceed Mr. Williams.
Mr. B. Williams: As the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge had said, the distinguishing feature about independent institutions under the Constitution was that they could have directly gained their money, as a charge on the Consolidated Fund. But with a Budget Agency, that removed the direct charge arrangement; it removed that lump sum arrangement. Therefore, it gave control to the executive in terms of the amount of money this institution gets.
So we are saying that the arrangement infringes the doctrine of Separation of Powers. Let us take it to the Judiciary. How could the independence of the Judiciary be guaranteed by a Budget Agency when hitherto expenditures were a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund? It means that the Head of the Budget Agencies for the Supreme Court or if you want to call it the Judiciary, determines what the Judiciary gets and that cannot safeguard or guarantee your independence. We have to revert to those guiding founding principles which had informed our Constitution ab initio, that is what we have to return to and that is why we are here. To me, there was really no basis to introduce the Third Schedule in the Constitution.
Fortunately for us, it only needs a simple majority to get rid of it; that is all it needs. Under Article 164, it is a simple majority. The PPP recognises that, because they were always saying that we need to move a Constitutional motion. We started with the statue, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and this is even simple, because section 82 says:
“The Minister may, by order, amend the Schedule.”
Well if the Minister could amend the Schedule, what could we do as the National Assembly? It would seem to me fortiori; it is even more so that we could also amend that Schedule.
Therefore, this does not need any long dissertation, we are in support of this Bill; one, to amend the Schedule and delete what was traditionally and Constitutionally independent entities under our Constitution; delete them from the Schedule in the Statute so that that would ipso facto, restore them to their positions.
Further, we will use our majority and we will repeal the Third Schedule to the Constitution created by Article 222A, because to do that requires a simple and the mighty vote of one. That is what it means. So I thank you, Mr. Speaker, as I support on behalf of the APNU. We support this proposed amendment to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, for the time being. Thank you. [Applause]
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