Two years after former Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang had ruled that cuts to the National Budgets in the National Assembly is unlawful, the Court of Appeal on Friday overturned the decision, saying the House can make cuts to the estimates presented by the Minister of Finance.
Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Carl Singh
Former Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang
After the then APNU and AFC Opposition parties had used their combined one-seat majority to axe $21.9 billion from the proposed $192.8 billion 2012 National Budget, the then PPP/C administration took to the Supreme Court to block the House from cutting the budget.
Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall had stated that the Opposition has no power to cut the budget and can either approve or reject it in its entirety. In January 2014, Justice Chang ruled that the House can only “approve (or not approve) the minister’s estimates… and does not imply or involve a power to amend or to adjust the estimates presented by the executive Minster”.
Displeased with the ruling, respondent in the matter then Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman, approached the Appeal Court to have the matter reversed or set aside.
Some two years later, an Appeal Court panel headed by acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh, Justice BS Roy and recently appointed acting CJ Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards delivered a ruling on the matter.
According to Justice Singh, the Court disagreed with Justice Chang’s ruling that the House, in the context considered, could not cut or reduce the estimates of expenditure as presented by then Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh. He said the former CJ was markedly “narrow and restrictive” in the approach to the matter.
Justice Singh explained that it comes down to a question of the interpretation placed upon Articles 218 (1) and (2) of the Constitution. According to the judges, while the constitutional responsibility for the preparation and presentation of the estimates of expenditure was that of the Minister of Finance, it is their considered view that once those estimates are laid before the National Assembly, “the Minister in a sense fades away” since the estimates now becomes the subject of scrutiny by the National Assembly.
“It would put a strain on reason and common-sense to expect that in its consideration of those estimates of expenditure the members of the National Assembly would mechanically offer their approval without question or challenge, or change to the estimates of expenditure presented by the Minister,” they ruled.
The Judges of Appeal added: “It is defeating to logic and common-sense to contend that the National Assembly could disapprove of the entire estimates of expenditure but did not have the implied power to adopt a less drastic measure, that is to reduce the estimates to a lesser sum,” the Chancellor pronounced.
Moreover Justice Singh in his conclusion of the ruling on Friday, said that discordant declaration by the Minister of Finance in April 2012, that the Committee of Supply had considered the estimates of expenditure and approved them as amended when it had been argued by the government side that the ability to amend resided only with the Finance Minister.
When contacted for his reaction to the ruling on Saturday, since he was the mover of the legal action, former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall said he was yet to read the decision and as such would not want to comment.