GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- Trinidadian senior counsel, Seenath Jairam, a Guyanese by birth, who was recruited by the government of Guyana for his years of experience in constitutional matters, as a high court judge and his current position as president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago has stated that the high court case filed by the government has every likelihood of success.
The government of Guyana was on Wednesday due to respond to the opposition’s arguments presented on Tuesday, on why the high court should not grant an order for the finance minister to access $20.9 billion (US$98 million) from the national treasury. The sum was cut from the 2012 national budget by the opposition, which holds a one seat majority in the House.
Jairam said that, despite the arguments, the government has a strong case, since the opposition’s argument that there is no separation of powers under the constitution is a constitutional heresy.
“Guyana like all Commonwealth countries always enjoys the separation of powers, that is to say, the executive, the judiciary and the legislative. in my view, if the opposition has a right to reduce a budget, they will be frustrating the will of the executive. They don’t have a right to reduce under the constitution, they may withhold approval, not reduce,” Jairam explained.
While he stated that withholding approval of the budget is a different constitutional argument, Jairam said that, under Article 65, “Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and the good governance of Guyana. You cannot reduce the budget by $1, causing people who are employed by the state agencies to be dismissed through no fault of their own. That is chaos”
He said, “If monies are not approved how are they to be paid? …Common sense tells us that unless monies are voted for the particular areas, there will have to be dislocation in employment.”
Meanwhile, attorney general and minister of legal affairs Anil Nandlall stated that the opposition has been unable to demonstrate in their arguments that their actions in the National Assembly were constitutional. He said that they were unable to point to the relevant constitutional provisions to show that they have the power to cut the budget estimates and expenditures for 2012 as presented by the minister of finance.
“They have essentially argued that the power of approval of the estimates includes a power to reduce it,” the AG said. “By no stretch of the law or language, can a power to approve include a power to reduce the estimates.”
He stated that, since the opposition has put forward all the arguments that were anticipated, there will be no difficulty in responding.
In April, after the presentation of the national budget to the National Assembly by the minister of finance, and the detailed examination of the estimates by the opposition benches, it was ruled that the budget be slashed by $20.9 billion. As a result there were no financial allocations made for several government agencies, and the jobs of state employees were put on the line.
The agencies affected include the Government Information Agency; National Communications Network; Ethnic Relations Commission which has already paid the price since its employees have been sent home; State Planning Secretariat; Guyana Elections Commission; Office of the President -- the major arm of the Executive; ICT development – One Laptop Per Family; Customs Anti Narcotics Unit and the Guyana Power and Light Company, which had its subsidy slashed by $1billion, even as the opposition parties oppose a small electricity tariff increase for Linden.
The Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) was also slashed and the Amerindian community in Guyana is currently paying the price.
The lack of funding for these agencies is already being felt, since creditors are leery of continuing to service them, and some have already withdrawn credit pending payment of current bills. In some cases employees who have not yet been paid for the month of June are seriously considering their options.
Notwithstanding, the opposition maintains their claim that what they did was not unconstitutional at all. Khemraj Ramjattan of the Alliance for Change has stated that, “the Order that is being sought here… is unconstitutional…this entire court matter is misconceived and heavily flawed. What we did by cutting and reducing the budget was in accordance with the standing orders, the constitutional provisions and also the statutory provisions of the FMAA.”
Meanwhile, Jairam will continue the response to the opposition’s arguments on Wednesday. The senior counsel will draw from the many constitutional law cases heard in Trinidad, along with judicial reviews, which have contributed to the wealth of his experience and expertise.
The application for the Interim Order was made on June 7, 2012, in the Chambers of Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang by Nandlall, who said that the order would permit the Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh to withdraw from the Contingency Fund, the sums of money originally budgeted for.
Lawyers representing the opposition include, Rex McKay, Robert Corbin, Joseph Harmon, Basil Williams, James Bond, Llewellyn John and Debra Backer.
Ashton Chase is representing the Minister of Finance.