Budget 2013: Old Habits Die Hard – commentary

 Budget 2013:  Old Habits Die Hard

APRIL 18, 2013 | BY KNEWS | EDITORIAL

The noise has subsided. Following the presentation of the 2013 budget one section of the Parliamentary opposition, the Alliance For Change, submitted a motion that would allow his party to make amendments to the budget.

Last year, without a motion, the opposition proceeded to implement cuts to the budget and sparked a legal action that only led to a temporary ruling. But there was a caveat to the ruling. The Chief Justice said that he cannot enforce his ruling on the national assembly.

But there should not have been all this hullaballoo because every Member of Parliament should have been au fait with the Standing Orders and with what they are expected to do on behalf of the people. The National Assembly is authorized to amend the budget. The government admits this yet when the amendment was made last year there was a legal challenge. 

Indeed the government announced that Guyana was treading uncharted territory by virtue of the decision that the opposition took. One year later and after intensive debate it turned out that Guyana was not in uncharted waters. Other parliaments have made amendments to their budgets.

Therein lies the problem. The government is stuck in the belief that it has all the powers that it had when it had a parliamentary majority. It goes to show that when the opposition voiced objection no one on the government took notice because they all knew that objection or not, the government’s views and intentions would remain unchanged.

This time around the opposition has the majority so in effect the deciding views and intentions that would prevail are those of the opposition. This is a bitter pill for the government to swallow and easily highlights the sharp political divisions in the country. Before making the uncharted comment, why didn’t the government do some research?

The Speaker of the House did and found that in 1994, in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, admittedly operating without a written Constitution that is supreme, an amendment to a budget resolution was carried by 319 to 311 votes.

“In Trinidad and Tobago, the relevant Standing Order (67) is identical to Guyana’s National Assembly’s Standing Order 76, and gives the House of Representatives the power to amend by way of a reduction.
In Australia, a country with a written Constitution and Westminster-styled parliamentary system, the Parliament, contrary to the opinion of some, has retained its amendment powers, where as recently, as 1995, a nominal amendment in the form of AU$250,000 reduction was made to Capital Expenditure.
But why should the government object to amendments? The money is not the government’s and besides, like the government, the opposition has a duty to protect the interest of the people. If there are projects that appear to be overpriced then there must be queries. In the final analysis the people are the ones who pay.

Indeed, there are many unanswered questions about certain expenditures. We have seen money spent on projects that turned out to be little more than white elephants. The National Assembly has also seen reports by the Auditor General that the government actually paid for projects that it never got. If the opposition sees these things then it has a right to conclude that too much money was voted and therefore there should be a reduction.

So the National Assembly is firm in its decision that the opposition is not there to be a rubber stamp to approve anything brought by the government.  There could be cuts unless the respective Ministries are prepared to answer questions about the allocations. So far they have.

But then again, as the Speaker said, the Minister of Finance, when reporting to the House, may either report that his Government accepts the amendments and go on to report to the House that the estimates have been approved, as amended, or he may indicate that he is withdrawing the Estimates entirely since his Government does not accept the amendments and see them as an indication of lack of confidence in the Government.

Will the Finance Minister opt for this course? We think not.

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Comments

  • de castro  On 04/19/2013 at 7:00 am

    KNews
    Interesting views…as suggested the minister has two options.

    1. Go ahead with amendments
    2. Withdraw estimates.

    The lesser of two options is decision 1.
    2. has serious political ramifications….

    My choice is neither 1. Or 2….as a third option exists.

    Let’s see what the minister does/decides to do…

    Politricks is usually packed with “intrigue” for want of a better word.

    Kamptan

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