Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo is urging officials of the various Government agencies, who last week received a circular from the Finance Ministry to submit their 2020 Budget proposals, to ignore the document.
“Just ignore them, ignore the thing … I think they should just go through the perfunctory exercise,” Jagdeo stated during a press conference last week.
However, he did recognise that these public servants were being pressured into going along with the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government’s illegal acts.
“It’s not the public servants we gotta go after because they are being pressured. We should go after the Director of the Office of Budget (at the Finance Ministry) for sending out a circular like this and the Treasury Secretary,” the Opposition Leader noted.
Asked whether any action would be taken against those officials who initiated the process, Jagdeo said, “They would have to say why they’re not opposed to this issue (and) why they sent out a circular of that nature. Unless, their hoping it would be helpful to us at the public level if the Government changes.”
However, the Opposition Leader made it clear that should the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) get into office, it would not start with a budget circular such as the one sent out by the Finance Ministry. Instead, he noted that the Party would seek to remove excess expenditure in order to save taxpayers’ money.
“The first PPP Government would immediately start from zero. Every expenditure made by this (coalition) Government will be reviewed and we will cut the excesses. The ministerial travels, the rental of buildings, the dietary, a whole range… We believe we can save a good $20-$30 billion and pass it on back to people through lower taxes and restoration of the benefits like the $10,000 grants and so on. So we’re not gonna work with Jordan’s framework for no budget,” Jagdeo contended.
Despite affirmation that the December No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against the coalition Government was validly passed and the fact that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has said the Administration should be in caretaker mode, preparations have commenced for 2020’s Budget.
In a move that is in implicit violation of the CCJ’s ruling, the leaked circular, dated June 21, 2019, instructs department heads, Permanent Secretaries, regional executives and heads of constitutional agencies to make submissions to the Ministry and complete aspects of Budget preparations, with a deadline of August 7, 2019 to hand in their Budget proposals.
The Budget agencies were given between August 19 and September 27, 2019 to consult with the Ministry on their submissions. October 10 was named as the date to present the constitutional agencies’ budgets to the National Assembly.
The circular, which was signed by the Ministry’s Finance Secretary, Michael Joseph, also named November 25, 2019 as the date to present the overall budget in the National Assembly. Affixing his signature to the circular, Joseph noted in the correspondence that it was penned under the delegated authority of the Finance Minister, pursuant to Section 13 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
The CCJ ruled on June 18 that the Government was defeated by a vote of no confidence, meaning early elections must be called. But just three days later, the Finance Ministry issued the circular for Budget debate in November, which is beyond the proposed date for new elections as proposed by the Opposition in a concession to the exigencies of the appeal by the Government to the NCM’s passage.
According to Jagdeo, this is a recent move in a series of acts by the coalition Government and its Ministers to defy the Trinidad-based regional court’s ruling.
“This is what we see manifested every single day – either it’s “forget the decision of the court” like some of them said – “we’re going along with our own business, forget what the Constitution says”, etc,” the Opposition Leader noted.
In several parliamentary democracies, such as New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, etc, there are explicit “Caretaker Conventions” and in those that have not, the practice is to follow the precedents in these jurisdictions. A fundamental tenet in these conventions is that only routine functions of the Government must be maintained and there can be no initiative that will bind any new incoming Government to policies with which they do not agree.
There is a convention on Caretaker Governments used in New Zealand. Section 6.21 states that “On occasion, it is necessary for a Government to remain in office for a period on an interim basis, when it has lost the confidence of the House, or (after an election) until a new ministry is appointed following the Government formation process”.
It continues that “during such periods, the incumbent Government is still the lawful executive authority, with all the powers and responsibilities that go with executive office. However, Governments in this situation have traditionally constrained their actions until the political situation is resolved, in accordance with what is known as the convention on Caretaker Government”.