Authority of the Assembly to make Amendments to or to Effect Cuts to the Estimates2779 15 Apr, 2013
Ms. Teixeira: First of all, could we, as a House, welcome Mr. Allen who is in our midst? We wish him best of health. We will miss you being in this House, Sir. You were quite a gentleman. [Applause]
I am not a lawyer, as it is known, and I am not an economist or an accountant, but I believe that a number of things being discussed here today fall on politics, political systems, governance, which are part of what we are talking about.
I have heard reference about the issues relating to the British Parliament and in all honesty when the Constitutional Reform Commission met and amended section of the Constitution there were sections of the Standing Orders that were not changed. To tell you the truth, Sir, we did not recognise this, as a Parliament, even though we had two Special Select Committees and a consultant from the Trinidadian Parliament, because I believe no one anticipated there would be such a situation where cuts would have actually happened. We learned, as we go forward, the British Parliament started in the year 1100, it is now over a 1,000 years old, and the House of Commons is replete with the many experiences and changes it had to make as time has gone on.
Our Parliament is a young one. I believe that I saw something in the newspapers about this. There are some things, I think, we have to underline in this discussion.
• One, the British system of the first past the poll system is as distinct from a Proportional Representation (PR) system.
• Secondly, there is a hybrid of the Westminster and Republican systems. It is not a Westminster system. There is a hybrid system that has many aspects of the Republican system in it.
• Thirdly we are governed by a Constitution and that Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
Therefore we are different from a number of countries that either do not have Constitutions or have given the Parliament that supremacy.
In the discussions here, today, the underlying issue of all Parliaments, of all Governments, of all Oppositions, is that it is the constitutional and prerogative of the executive, whether in the form of the Crown, as of the British Parliament, in the Canadian Parliament of, again, the Crown and the instrument of the Prime Minister in Canada, or whether it is Australia or India, to bring the Estimates, bring the budget, request moneys, based on its overriding responsibility in duty to manage and guide the finances and the management of the country. No one disputes that. However, budgets are not created by just putting a bunch of numbers together; they are interlinked and interlocked.
The Chief Justice ruling - just let me pause for a minute – when it is read is a very interesting document and a very enlightening document because he makes the difference between parliaments and constitutions that have allowed for parliaments to determine and to approve or disapprove and parliaments which have not. He pointed to the Australian Parliament where such powers have not been conferred and he quotes from the Australian case. We talked about the power to cut; the Chief Justice talked about to approve or to disapprove. The Standing Order 76 (7), which the Hon. Member Ramjattan and the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge quoted from, states that the amendment to leave out a Head shall not be in order and shall not be placed on the Notice Paper.
In the motion submitted by the Hon. Member, there were submissions to cut Heads, to reduce Heads to zero. Therefore those particular submissions by the Members need to be segregated. That is why I believe the Standing Order states this. When you go to Erskine May, Mr. Speaker, and to the other constitutional unit of the Commonwealth - you and I have shared that document - from the University of College of London, the study of minority governments in a number of countries, in which there is the rule of thumb, has to do with the prerogative of the executive to bring the budget and the prerogative of the Opposition to scrutinise, to challenge, to question, to interrogate the Government on the use of funds and on its proposals, but it does not mean that it is given the power to reduce. It is given the power to approve or disapprove. We are talking about Mr. Ramjattan’s motions. Some of these motions are actually irrelevant because they are Heads and when they come to the vote the person, whom I believe is moving, may want to object and, therefore, disapprove. The point is that these are Heads in which money would have been disapproving entirely and coming to zero.
What the Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan is saying is that we really do not want to reduce to zero in some cases, but we want to cut. The Chief Justice’s ruling is that this Parliament, this Opposition, as guided by the Constitution, does not have such powers. If we want to go in that direction we have to amend the Constitution, but it cannot be done by a sleight of hand, by bringing a motion to reduce the Head or Sub-head under the budget.
I remember in the year 2012 we started some of these discussions and there were very strong views, and the Government decided to approach the courts. It is rather facile, I believe, and a bit mean-spirited. It is scoring points, but we are in Parliament so we will try to score points. In 2012 on April 17th, 18th, 19th to the 26th, we were in uncharted waters as we are now. The cuts that came about and the reduction of the budget by $19 or almost $20 billion were totally new. It never happened in this Parliament from the time in which it was formed. It never has happed since there is Cabinet. I saw in the newspaper, in the Guyana Review, about the Cabinet system being introduced and the anniversary of it. We were confronted with a new situation in which the only guide we had was the Constitution. The Standing Orders have not been amended by our own faults, by human error, of not bringing the Standing Orders into compliance with the constitutional amendments and the Constitution.
The comments made by Members, on the other side, are that we are taking away powers. It is always, in very common parlance, the prerogative of the Government to propose and the prerogative of the Opposition to oppose. That, it has been and was said over and over, ad nauseam. We will not get into the specificities of the motion and the proposed cuts, per se. We will leave that to the way in which this matter will be finalised. The Constitution and this Parliament have to recognise that the Government determines the Estimates, the Opposition can say “no” or oppose, under each Estimate, reject or abstain and it can question and interrogate anyone for a long time, but, Sir... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Allow the Chief Whip to speak please.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Speaker has a problem sometimes. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, by cutting many times, one is reducing the budget and what the Opposition wants this House to do, it is not allowed under the Constitution; it is not being supported by no less a person than the Chief Justice. The Constitution is saying, at this point, in this Parliament on April 15, 2013, that the Opposition has a right to say yea, or nay, or decline, or stay silent on the vote, but it cannot, at this point, cut or reduce the budget.
Thank you Sir. [Applause]
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