Emergency budget was needed to safeguard functioning of country – AG tells High Court
…Court to refuse request over budget allocations to constitutional agencies
Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, is asking the High Court to refuse a declaration sought by APNU/AFC Parliamentarian David Patterson, that consideration and approval of budget proposals for constitutional agencies by the National Assembly on September 1, 2020 were done contrary to Section 80 B (2) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA).
Patterson, current Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), who formerly served as Public Infrastructure Minister under the previous APNU/AFC Government, has complained that the proposals were not made available to his party before September 01, 2020, and a breach of the Act was thus committed.
However, Nandlall, in an Affidavit in Defence, has contended that there is no issue in controversy, and as such, he is asking the court to refuse the orders and declarations being sought by Patterson, “since it would serve no useful purpose.” In fact, the Attorney General is contending that failure to circulate the budget proposals for 23 constitutional agencies is justified by the doctrine of necessity.
Nandlall has submitted that Guyana was plunged into a constitutional crisis when APNU/AFC refused to give up office after being defeated by a no-confidence motion, and the protracted March 2020 elections had placed the country on a trajectory of constitutional default.
Against this backdrop, he said, there was an absolute necessity to safeguard the continuation of the effective functioning of the country, and there was no other course of action reasonably available to the PPP/C Government than the passing of an emergency budget.
According to Nandlall, in passing the emergency Budget, the Government did not impair the just rights of citizens under the Constitution, but rather sought to safeguard their health and safety, and to provide much-needed resources and services.
While the Court has jurisdiction, as guardian of the Constitution, to interrogate the actions of the Government, Nandlall is arguing, the intention of Parliament cannot be questioned or inquired into by the courts, unless it were purely against the constitutional ethos or spirit.
The Attorney General advanced that in the absence of a budget during the elections period, Guyana’s economy and productive sectors continued to plummet, and the effective functioning of the State as a whole became almost impossible.
COVID-19 global pandemic
Fueling that, he noted, was the fatal COVID-19 global pandemic, which brought with it a heightened demand for healthcare services, and brought the economy to a grinding halt.
In context of the unprecedented events in Guyana’s constitutional history, and the extenuating circumstances, the Attorney General contends, Patterson’s claim is academic, since the budget was an emergency budget, the monies were expended, and the life of that budget expired since December 2020.
According to Nandlall, the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill, Bill No. 1/2021 published on January 27, 2021, was read in the National Assembly for the first time on January 28, 2021, and the Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Ashni Singh, shall move the second reading of the Bill on February 04, 2021.
This Bill seeks, among other things, to amend section 80B of the Principal Act by deleting subsections (1) to (4). In the circumstances, Nandlall submits, the court should not adjudicate in matters where there is no live controversy between the parties.
“In this case, the budget was passed and carried in the National Assembly and the Appropriation Bill was made law.”
Having regards to the foregoing, the Attorney General submits, Patterson’s application is an affront to the overriding objectives of the Civil Procedure Rules 2016, because the point is now academic and moot and will not occur again, having regard to Bill No 1/2021.
Bad in law
But Patterson maintains that lack of compliance with the process for consideration and approval of budget proposals for constitutional agencies renders the consideration and/or approval of the 2020 budget bad in law, null, and of no legal effect.
Patterson is also hoping that the court would grant him a declaration that the budget and/or proposal of the Audit Office ought to have been submitted to Parliament by the Chairperson of the PAC before approval and consideration by the National Assembly, in keeping with the FMAA.
He also is arguing that no expenditure of any sum of money can lawfully occur except in accordance with the Constitution and terms approved by Parliament, inclusive of the FMAA. He therefore submits that, “The purported approval of the Budget proposals of constitutional agencies is in breach” of the FMAA, and are therefore without legal validity.
Having regard to the circumstances, Patterson is also asking the High Court to order the Finance Minister or Minister performing those functions, the Financial Secretary, their servants, agents or whosoever from making or causing any disbursement to be made of any sums in favour of constitutional agencies “purportedly” approved by the National Assembly on September 1, 2020.
Apart from seeking an order prohibiting them from including the purported budget appropriations for constitutional agencies in the estimates of the Public Sector under the FMAA pursuant to the purported approval by the House, he wants any further or other order the court deems just as well as costs. (G1)