Nandlall, Patterson in High Court challenge over approval of budget proposals for constitutional agencies

Opposition MP and former Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson is seeking from the High Court a declaration that the consideration and approval of budget proposals for 23 constitutional agencies by the National Assembly on September 01, 2020, were done in breach of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA).

Attorney General Anil Nandlall, on the other hand, is asking the court to decline Patterson’s request since it would be of no useful purpose at this stage since the funds allocated under the 2020 emergency budget were expended and the life of that budget expired in December 2020.

Patterson who is the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), says that the proposals were not made available to the APNU/AFC before September 01, 2021, and therefore there was a breach of Section 80 B (2) of the FMAA.

By Order 82 (2) of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, Patterson states that the Chairperson of the PAC, shall be a member of the main Opposition.

But as of September 01, 2020, he said no one had been elected to the post. According to him, Section 80 B (6) of the FMAA, states that the budget appropriation for constitutional agencies shall be included in the estimates of the Public Section as subventions to constitutional agencies.

He added that Section 80 B (8) of the Act provides that the appropriation of constitutional agencies approved by the National Assembly shall be disbursed as a lump sum by the end of the month, following the month in which the appropriation is approved.

Taking this into consideration, he argues that no expenditure of any sum of money can lawfully occur except in accordance with the Constitution and terms approved by the FMAA.  On this basis, he contends that the “the purported approval of the Budget proposals of constitutional agencies are in breach” of the FMAA which renders it without legal validity.

The Attorney General, however, contends that the failure to circulate the budget proposals for the constitutional agencies is justified by the doctrine of necessity.

Putting this into context, he explained that Guyana was in a constitutional crisis following the successful passage of a no confidence motion against the APNU/AFC which refused to demit office even after a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice.

This, he added, was further compounded by the five-month long March 2020 elections period which was marred with a series of litigations. Moreover, he said that the onset of the fatal COVID -19 pandemic brought a heightened demand for health care services and brought the economy to a grinding halt.

According to Nandlall, this resulted in Guyana’s economy and productive sectors plummeting and the effective functioning of the country became almost impossible.

So, when the PPP/C took Government in August 2020, Nandlall said it was an absolute necessity to safeguard the continuation of the effective functioning of the country and there was no other course of action than the passing of an emergency budget.

In passing the emergency budget, he noted that the Government did not impair the just rights of citizens under the Constitution but rather sought to safeguard their health and safety and to provide much-needed resources and services.

Arguing that the court should not adjudicate in matters where there is no live controversy between the parties, the Attorney General said, “In this case, the budget was passed and carried in the National Assembly and the Appropriation Bill was made law.”

In the meantime, Patterson wants the High Court to order the Minister of Finance or minister performing those functions, the Financial Secretary, their servants, agents or whosoever from making or causing any disbursement to be made of any sums in favour of constitutional agencies.

He wants another order prohibiting them from including the purported budget appropriation for constitutional agencies in the estimates of the Public Sector under the FMAA pursuant to the purported approval by the National Assembly.