May 07, 2013 - THE FISCAL MANAGEMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013
Mr. Ramjattan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. When we passed the Constitutional Amendment No. 6 of 2001 to then become part of the Constitution of Guyana in Article 222 (a), we wanted a change of the financial architecture of this country and that was supported in a very big way the present Government. As a matter of fact, if one were now to read the revised constitution in keeping with the incorporation of Article 222 (a) into the Constitution we see the marginal note “Overarching clause on financial autonomy” and we see the actual contents stating that in order to ensure the independence of entities listed in the Third Schedule, which is the Supreme Court and the Ethnic Relations Commission and so many other commissions, it states categorically “the expenditures of these entities shall be financed as a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund, determined as a lump sum by way of an annual subvention approved by the National Assembly after a review and approval of the entity’s annual budget...” Then it goes on to state: “each entity shall manage its subvention in such manner as it deems fit for the efficient discharge of its functions, subject only to [this] confirmation with the financial practices and procedures approved by the National Assembly to ensure accountability”. When we passed that Constitutional Amendment we then had to ensure – and that was in 2001 – through amendments to our statutes that we give meaning to that Constitutional Amendment but no meaning was given to it because, quite frankly, the PPP Government, having the majority right up into 2012, did not want to give teeth to that new regime that was supposed to be limited in its application only to those Constitutional Commissions and did not want to ensure that that would be done. Hence, we did not have it happening. It is then very illogical for one to state a very conservative approach that because there was a certain regime prior to the constitutional amendment we have to be enslave to that regime to the extent of breaching our Constitutional Amendment as done in 2001. It is in this context we must appreciate that what is being sought here by the amendment to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act – the FMAA as we call it – is to now regularise what the Constitutional Amendment commanded. The amendment commanded a certain direction relation to constitutional agencies as per the Third Schedule but we were not doing it and now we have a Parliamentarian here who says that in keeping with that amendment it should be done and I agree with him and the Alliance For Change (AFC) agrees that in relation to these constitutional agencies we must give it teeth. As to whether it is the perfect format, as to whether it has perfection about it as to how it is going to be done is a thing that we as Parliamentarians through the evolution of seeing the soundness of it which comes more by time and the trials and tribulations of seeing how it would be operable we will find that out but do not make meaningless a Constitutional Amendment and say “Look, we never used to do it so before”. We never had an Article 222 (a) before so this argument that what we are going here is going to in every respect be a violation and an encroachment of a certain regime that existed is not how we should argue this thing. The regime changed and so we should have a change in the regime. Then, if indeed we used to have the Minister of Finance being all the time the person who will then make the numbers in relation to agencies, we are saying now, under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, indeed we can have the Public Accounts in relation to the Audit Office’s budget being the entity that will deal with that [Mr. Hamilton: Who will answer?] A Parliamentarian here. That is not going to be stalled. That is not going to be stalled and you are misinterpreting the intent of the legislation. It has to be someone there that will make the call in relation to answer questions but he does so delegated from the Public Accounts or the Auditor General’s Office and it is for that reason we passed Article 222 (a). What then gave it that independence to become scheduled under the Third Schedule? Was it to remain and make meaningless the status quo to remain and for the entire amendment to be meaningless? It could not and so in relation to the budgetary process for these entities in the Third Schedule they have been alterations of the regime. The Minister of Finance or the relevant Minister that deals with accounts has to answer here. Fine, he has to answer in Parliament, but that does not mean that when the Auditor General’s Office sends in a budget the Budget has now to be controlled by the Minister of Finance. That is not what we intended by Article 222 (a). We intended to make it an autonomous body in relation to asking the Finance Ministry ‘Please take out as lump sum $400 million or $4 billion because that is what we will need for the purpose of running that’. The Minister then, in consultation with that body, says that $4 billion is too much we need to cut down some here and whatever the consultations are. We are saying that of course, if the Auditor General agrees, if the Audit General’s lump sum subvention is asked for under this Article 222 (a) it means that you have to give him. [Mr. Hamilton: You are a madman.] Oh! We are mad people. What did you pass Article 222 (a) for? What is the meaning of Article 222 (a)? It goes by the limitation of sound financial practice. What is sound financial practice? I come to that. Sound financial practice, as we understand from the accountants, is largely taking the previous year’s budgetary allocation into account. There must be a meaning for it but what is our Constitution? Does it have no meaning? It could never have been that case. Then one goes back to what the constitutional reform commission had in mind when it did this but a lot of us do not want to go back there because it is going to indicate to them what it means. I was not a member of that commission, but I want to tell you that the Reform Commission had indicated that we have to go to look for international best practices has how does a lump sum on some financial practices and what the Parliamentarian, Mr. Carl Greenidge, is doing is giving teeth in this amendment to ensure that that be made meaningful, the Constitutional Amendment. I want that to be understood otherwise we are going to have, like so many laws being made by the governing party, nothing happening thereafter. We passed an Access to Information Act; nothing happened. It has not even operational after some five or six years. How long was it passed? [Ms. Manickchand: Not five or six years.] Whatever it is, but up to now they say... [Mr. Neendkumar: Reckless.] It is not being reckless. I had laid that a long time ago. I think it was you, Mr. Speaker, who had laid it a long time ago; since the very first time the AFC came into Parliament.
Mr. Speaker: In November, 2006, I laid it.
Mr. Ramjattan: November, 2006, and it was passed only two years ago. Alright they are making a big point that I got my years wrong. I apologise but whatever it is you have now passed the Access to Information Act and you have not operationalised it. You have not passed the commencement order for its operationalisation and that is what, in a sense, we did with this Constitutional Amendment. That is what we did with this Constitutional Amendment. We just rested it on the shelf in Article 222 (a) not then giving these special commissions the authority to claim their budget; no, it must, as you say, remain that the Minister of Finance will dominate and monopolise what should be the budgetary allocation for these constitutional agencies.
I want that to be understood because apparently it has not been understood by that side. There is another important point that we want to make mention of and that is a very important clause in this Bill, that is 85 (a): “The principle act is hereby amended by the insertion of the following section...” Now, as you know, there was a penalty section for the breaching of the FMAA and its provisions but at that point in time, when we had passed it, it had indicated only “officials” or “officer”, I think it was... “Officials will be subject to prosecution” not the Minister so the Minister could direct these officials to do all manner of things that could have breached the provisions of the FMAA and that could go on like that. If we now... Quite frankly, I want to give you my story on it. The last time when there was an incident here I had spoken to the Director of Public Prosecutions and she was the one that indicated to me that the word ‘official’ does not mean “the Minister” and when I had done my internal investigations the officials had indicated that it was the Minister who was instructing them to do certain things which, in my opinion, was tantamount to breaching the financial provisions of the act. One could have brought a private criminal charge against the Minister but the DPP indicated quite clearly that “official” here does not mean “the Minister” so the person who is directing violations cannot be prosecuted. We are correcting now because that previous law, the amendment to the Financial Accountability Act, 2003, did not include the Minister as the one who also comes under the definition of ‘official’ and it is very important because now section 85 (a) of this amendment is stating clearly that ‘official’ here now includes, mutatis mutandis, the Minister, so we can have more accountability. One does not just go and say “I cannot be charged” and the relevant or portfolio Minister can say what he wants to his “little boys” in the Ministry and then they do whatever the violation and we cannot do anything; whatever it is. [Dr. Singh: Is that the respect you have for public officials?] They are little boys when compared to the Minister.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Ramjattan, sorry. For the last month I have interacted as most of us would have with members of staff of the Ministry of Finance and I would not wish to have them classified as “little boys”. I ask that you withdraw that.
Mr. Ramjattan: I apologise. I withdraw that.
Mr. Speaker: It has been dealt with, Hon. Minister of Finance.
Dr. Singh: May I, with your permission, as a Minister responsible for a Ministry staffed by distinguished and outstanding professionals, register my own affront at the manner in which Mr. Ramjattan just insulted them?
Mr. Speaker: You will speak on the Bill later but, as I said, I have asked that it be withdrawn because, as I said...
Mr. Ramjattan: I will withdraw it. It was utterance that came out. That was in my head. I am sorry. Even if it is reckless I am glad that the point was well made that indeed it is the lesser officials that they wanted prosecuted and not the big boys. That is what they wanted. They wanted them to be exempted but we have a law that says that one can bring prosecutions against those lesser officials, but not the man who may very well be the intellectual author of the violation. Now they come and say that they are affronted by what I say. I want to make it clear...
Dr. Singh: I have thus far restrained myself. The Hon. Member has repeated been referring to the Minister and has been insinuating that “the Minister committed violations”. For him now to link his statement “the Minister committed violations” with my statement about my affront is insinuating wrongdoing on my part and unless the Hon. Member has evidence of wrongdoing I insist, Sir, with your permission, that this aspersion be withdrawn forthwith. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Ramjattan, the Hon. Member feels that you have been casting aspersions of wrongdoing. I have said before that unless there is a specific motion on the floor that seeks to go against the character or the office or any Member of this House we should not go along that route so I would ask you to withdraw that and we will continue with the debate.
Mr. Ramjattan: Mr. Speaker, if you want me to withdraw it I am going to withdraw it, but we have a freedom here...
Mr. Speaker: That is the ruling of the Speaker. Thank you very much.
Mr. Ramjattan: We now would like to see that the Minister...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Ramjattan... Because, Mr. Greenidge, the Speaker has so ruled that he should and that is the ruling of the speaker. Mr. Ramjattan, you may proceed.
Mr. Ramjattan: I respect the ruling.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much. Go ahead, please.
Mr. Ramjattan: In any event the whole purpose is now to fill the lacuna of the previous piece of legislation to include the Minister and not only the officials within the Ministry; whatever the Ministry. I think that he is getting a little jumpy here that it may very well be that there might be cases brought but in any event I want to indicate.
Dr. Singh: May I clarify, Sir? Who is the “he” to whom the Hon. Member is insinuating is getting jumpy?
Mr. Speaker: This is a debate and you, Hon. Minister of Finance, will have your opportunity to respond in full. You will have an opportunity to respond. We are in the cut and thrust of a debate. Let the debate flow, please.
Mr. Ramjattan: I would not be much longer, Sir. I think that I have made my point and I want to say that if we have the political will in this National Assembly to want more accountability we are going to support this Bill in its entirety and all those across the floor who would spout accountability and transparency ought to know that what this Bill and the contents of it are directed to is that set of accountability and transparency that they spout. The Alliance For Change gives it full support to this Bill and all of its provisions. There may be imperfections about it but it is a start in giving meaning to Article 222 (a). Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause].