National Assembly allows amendment to Fiscal Management and Accountability Act

The National Assembly, today, gave the nod for the amendment to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA), which will increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which Parliament could consider the budget of constitutional agencies.

Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, said the amendments concern several provisions that were inserted into the principal Act in 2015, shortly after the APNU+AFC Coalition took office.

Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, today in the National Assembly

In July of that year, the then Government brought an amendment Bill to alter the original FMAA. That Bill related to the budget processes governing constitutional agencies and entities listed in the third schedule of the Constitution.

“The intent of the Bill in 2015 was to give effect to Article 222 (a) of the Constitution, which speaks to the autonomy of the constitutional agencies.

“The amendment laid out a two-stage process whereby the budget of the constitutional agencies would be brought to the National Assembly, considered and approved by the Assembly, and incorporated into the national budget, which would subsequently be submitted to the House for consideration, at which time the budget of the constitutional agencies, would not be reconsidered, but would form part of the national budget,” Dr Singh told the National Assembly.

Today’s amendment has removed that two-step process and now allows for a single process of submission to the National Assembly.

Dr Singh argued that certain responsibilities relating to fiscal matters are vested only in the Executive. This, he said, is best exemplified in Article 171 of the Constitution, which articulates that certain matters relating to public finances, including the levying of taxes, can only be brought before the House signified by a Minister.

“What the 2015 amendment did was curtail the Executive’s role and those budgets no longer came to the National Assembly with the signature of consent from Cabinet, as is required by the Constitution. Instead, it was submitted to the offices of the Clerk of the National Assembly.”

The Finance Minister said the function of managing public finances and achieving fiscal outcomes rest with the Minister of Finance and the Government he or she is part of. He said the 2015 amendment violated the principle to involve the Executive in the management of the public financing.

“The underlying principle is that if we will hold the Executive accountable to fiscal output, the Executive must have responsibility for the achievement of those output.”

Dr. Singh said the language of Article 222 (a) of the Constitution was very clear when it said, “in order to assure the independence of the entities listed in the third schedule, the expenditure of each of the entities shall be financed by the direct charge of the consolidated fund determined as a lump sum by way of an annual subvention approved by the way of the National Assembly, after a review and approval of an entity’s annual budget as part of the process of determination of the national budget.”

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Hon. Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC

Joining the debate, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Hon. Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC said the Constitution of Guyana allows the Minister of Finance to exercise a Presidential delegated function of preparing and laying the budget in the National Assembly.

The Attorney General said the 2015 amendment had encroached on the power of the executive and collided with the Constitution. The Act, he said, also removed billions of dollars from Parliamentary scrutiny that by law, could only be spent after scrutiny.

“Simply put, this Act that they passed in 2015 in relation to constitutional agencies, they took that power from the President and they give it to the constitutional agencies to present budgetary estimates,” the AG said.

AG Nandlall said Guyana has a financial structure that is similar to 49 other countries across the Commonwealth.

“Let them point to one country, one country in the British Commonwealth, where you have agencies coming by themselves outside of the Executive Government to present budgets. Let them point to one. They cannot, because it doesn’t exist,” the AG said.

The Bill was passed in the absence of the Parliamentary Opposition.

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