Being away for the past six weeks allowed me the luxury of leisurely contemplating Guyana from afar. The news emerging was not encouraging. The prison was burnt down and prisoners escaped; then more escaped from Lusignan. A disaster waiting to happen, it was said, but nothing of significance was done to prevent it. Perceptions of the Constitution, where it differed from the Court’s, were given equal weight. Secret dealings with ExxonMobil are justified on blatantly flawed and trivial excuses. Budget allocations are not being disbursed thus limiting economic activity and job creation. Rupert Roopnaraine resigned, then changed his mind.
Freddie Kissoon and Kaieteur News continue their decades long, personal, vendetta against me, because of an apology he and KN were forced to make to me more than twenty years ago. In pursuance of his hate campaign, Kissoon regurgitates stories that I have already fully answered ten and more years ago – answers which he does not reveal when he rambles on, ad nauseam.
Guyana’s economy is declining. The growth rate fell this year and the projection for next year is modest. This means that the income of the Government has declined significantly and so has its ability to spend. Public expenditure is one of the two main props that keeps the economy ticking over and sustains employment, income and services. The othe is private investment.
In making decisions on the budget, the Government found itself between a rock and a hard place. It had to decide whether to reduce spending in proportion to its reduced income or sustain the same or a similar level of public spending as previously by raising funds by way of taxation and borrowing. It chose the latter course by imposing or increasing taxes on individuals and businesses. It has also increased the amount that it will borrow next year, eliminating any prospect of a decline in interest rates.
Many may remember that the Judicial Service Commission (“JSC”) recommended the appointment of prominent lawyer Miles Fitzpatrick as an acting Judge in the early 1970s. Mr. Fitzpatrick then turned up at State House on the appointed day to be sworn in by the then President, His Excellency Arthur Chung. The President failed to appear, in his own house. The swearing-in was aborted and Mr. Fitzpatrick was never appointed. The Independence Constitution and its 1980 substitute provided that the President “may appoint” judges who were recommended by the JSC.
In 2001 the authority of the JSC was strengthened, and the discretion of the President was removed, by the substitution of “shall” for “may.” Article 128(1) now provides that Judges other than the Chancellor and Chief Justice are appointed by the President “who shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.” Article 128(2) now provides that “the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and appoint a person to act in the office of Justice of Appeal or Puisne Judge, as the case may be.” These amendments were based on the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (“CRC”) in 2000.
Minister Winston Jordan’s outburst at Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, a constitutional office holder, was unusual. While it came from a man of moderate temperament, it offends what is or should be the normal practice, namely, that the executive should not publicly chastise or question decisions of independent, constitutional office holders except within official channels. The issue was the Auditor General’s opinion that certain government expenditures did not qualify as emergencies and so were not properly charged to the Contingencies Fund.
The Minister’s view was that the Auditor General has no jurisdiction under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (“the Act”) to pronounce on whether an expenditure qualifies as ‘urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen.’ He argued that the decision is that of the Minister who reports to the National Assembly. The Minister further suggested that in the past the Ministry was given the opportunity to edit the Auditor General’s Report but that such a facility has been withdrawn. The Auditor General rejected the Minister’s assertions.
The right to question took centre stage last week in the National Assembly. The Speaker ruled that Mr. Anil Nandlall abused the right in relation to a number of questions tabled by him. The questions appeared to be quite innocuous, even if the information sought was a bit much. In relation to the persons pardoned by President Granger during last year, the questions asked for their names, addresses, offences committed, criminal records, length of sentences, process and criteria employed, how many persons granted pardons were subsequently charged with offences, the names of those persons and the offences for which they were charged.
The Speaker was not required to and did not give any reasons for his ruling. But over the past fifteen years Speakers have sought to explain their rulings in order to demonstrate that their decisions are based on rational considerations. This effort was intended to limit allegations of bias.