The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 20132111 14 Feb, 2013
Mr. Greendige; Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I have pleasure in turning to this item, the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2013. At this stage I do not plan to speak for very long for two reasons: one is, we had a motion which called upon the Government to do the things that are set out here. We subsequently discussed the Constitutional Amendment Bill on two occasions and even in an attempt to stop this from going forward we had a discussion. A good deal of the background has already been discussed and what I would like to do, if colleagues agree, is to simply draw to your attention the mechanics. What it is that the Bill is trying to do? To some extent I try to point to this a little earlier.
The idea is that since the Constitution has set out for independent entities a certain mode of treatment, what we had gone to do is, we had gone to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, which itself is the culprit as regards the Constitution and the treatment of Constitutional agencies and sought to amend it so that the required financial characteristics be reflected in the estimates for example, when they are being prepared.
In essence, what one seeks to do in the initial instance is to ensure that four Constitutional agencies since there will be an official named as the head of that agency, that official will have the responsibility for ensuring that estimates are prepared – well that is normal, but now you remove the responsibility from if it were under the Office of the President or way before. That official has the responsibility of transmitting the request for funding through the National Assembly. It comes therefore, directly to the National Assembly rather than via Ministries because these entities are not supervised. These are Constitutional agencies and therefore, they report direct to the House. Their estimates comes to the House, the House considers those estimates along with advise from the Minister of Finance who would receive at the same time a copy of the request and the House would consider the recommendation of the Minister of Finance and as required by the legislation, which specifically says that the House will consider the matter ... [Interruption] we will ensure that the National Assembly... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker, I do not know why men are getting so excited because the Constitution is being subverted and we are only remedying it.
Paragraph 222 A, says specifically, for ten years the Constitution has been undermined. [Dr. Singh: You destroyed it for how many years.] And yet you are here to tell the story, so it could not have damaged you that much.
The requirement is that the annual subvention, approved by the National Assembly, after review. So it comes to the National Assembly, specifically for review and approval, then it is incorporated in the National Budget. It is, if you like, a modification of the existing process so that it comes to the National Assembly; the National Assembly must know what the request is. In the preparations of their submissions the agencies will have received guidelines from the Ministry of Finance, as set out in the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. So, if the guidelines from the Ministry of Finance say that you are working within budget increases of 2% or what have you, they will have to live within that or if they have an exemption they will come and justify it in front of the House. The single exception is that, in the case of the Public Accounts Committee, the Public Accounts Committee has the specific responsibility for the Office of the Auditor General and it will therefore come to the House through the Public Accounts Committee.
The explanation I am offering you reflects the channel by which the information arrives. It then sets out where it is reflected in the Estimates. In other words, in the Estimates, instead of the estimates which currently are prepared at the moment ... [Interruption] Dr. Singh, if you have a complaint about it you can tell me you know. Lt. Col. Harmon does not want to take that exercise on. I can look after myself.
The Estimates as you see them right now have four constitutional agencies, a whole number of pages with the elements of budget set out here, which could be modified by the Ministry of Finance. What we are saying is that they should be reflected, not as you will find them for example in the current estimates, GECOM for example, page 70, plus Parliament Office, Teaching Service Commission, etc., but that they be shown as is the ERC. If you look in that part of the table that deals with details of Subsidies and Contributions to Local Organisation, there is a single block vote and that is what we will approve, after consideration of the details. If you look at the back of the Estimates you will see Statutory Expenditures and in the case of these agencies, section 4, at the back of the Estimates, you will see Statutory Agencies. In future, these Constitutional bodies will go at the back, alongside those to be treated in a manner similar to Constitutional agencies. Not exactly the same because they can be modified by us. So that is the intention and I think all the other details are really quite self evident.
I would like to make reference to one other element. You will see in section 81, the recommendation here is that they also be specifically required, as with the statutory bodies to submit annual reports and audited financial statements under section 80. Instead of the concerned Minister being identified here it will be the official who is charged with overseeing the Constitutional agencies. So these are elements of tidiness.
Finally, may I say that if you will have a look at section 85A of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, you will see reference to the question of public officials, who may cause lost or inappropriately spent resources under their control. Originally, officials could be surcharged or fined for such behaviour. The definition of the word “Official” has however been modified since 2003, to exclude Ministers.
We are proposing here that Ministers be reincorporated into that arrangement so that ‘official’ will be redefined to include Ministers. That I think is only right because if one is saying that if an official spends money illegally or loses the state’s resources, causes it to be lost, then that official is subject to being fined and jailed, one has under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act a very powerful instrument which allows the Minister to actually instruct the public official and what we are saying here is he should be liable for his own actions as well. It cannot be fair for public officials to take instructions to do something illegal and only they will be subject to the law.
What we are saying here is Ministers are not above the law and in a time when we are concerned about the question of financial probity it is only fitting and proper that they be captured. It was there before. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I believe that we will take the break. Mr. Greenidge… I was saying that we will take the break, but just for clarification…
Mr. Greenidge: Yes, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: He has finished.
Mr. Greenidge: I have finished. [Mr. Benn: …on his time.]
Mr. Speaker: I am the Speaker and I will decide what I am doing. Thank you. When we return we will have Mr. Nadir commence, after the break. Mr. Greenidge, is there a specific agency or agencies that use this formula that you are proposing now? Are there any constitutionally independent agencies functioning that use this formula?
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, there are many de facto agencies which receive… [Mr. Nadir: You are talking about de jure.]
Mr. Speaker: I am asking… Mr. Nadir, you will get a chance to speak.
Mr. Greenidge: Our colleagues are having difficulty with the language. I am saying that there are many de facto autonomous agencies meaning that they receive subventions directly from the treasury. There are a number of them.
Mr. Speaker: That is because this House has voted for that provision and it goes straight…
Mr. Greenidge: These are not agencies now. In those cases they are not constitutional agencies in the sense that they do not fall under the definition of 212 (a) but what I am answer to is… You asked whether other agencies have a process. That part of the process that I am identifying for you in relation to other financial agencies for example is that they are recipients of moneys directly. We have a number of them but in this particular case what we are seeking to do is to bring them under the purview of the Parliament. That is the specific question. One cannot have… [Mr. Neendkumar: Answer the question.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, this is for my edification. I may not be as bright as many of you are but this is for me. I have asked a question. Mr. Greenidge had only spoken for about ten minutes so as mover of the motion he has another half of an hour if he really wants so this is… Proceed, Mr. Greenidge.
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am quite happy to answer your questions or anybody else’s, providing if they are like yours and can make sense. What I am saying is that the constitution sets out a framework. In the case of the ERC, for example, only half of the framework is in place. The ERC has a block vote. There are many entities which are not constitutional agencies but we have given them block votes. The Constitution requires the House to review and determine how much they get and that is what I am trying to ensure happens. It is in keeping with our Constitution.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker… let me just remind you, since you have an interest in this matter, that when the motion came to the House you, in a number of questions, which have become, I think, you hallmark, asked whether there are arrangements in place elsewhere because I had mentioned the United States. I do not know whether you recall and I remember saying to you that in the case of the judiciary of the United States the request for moneys goes directly from the judiciary to the President. The President, himself, is not allowed to amend it. He simply transmits it to the House and the House then discusses and approves a sum. When that sum is approved it has to be disbursed by the treasury. The President and his Secretary of State cannot amend it after it will have been approved. In this particular case the Constitution is very specific. It says that these agencies and the money they receive are to be approved by the House, the legislature. That is what it says here. [Interruption] It says noting of the sort.
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