Govt railroads Opposition to approve SARA start-up monies

first_imgGovernment on Thursday, using its parliamentary majority, brushed aside concerns over its legality and approved in excess of 0 million as part of the start-up fund for the controversial State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA).The matter came to the fore as the House resolved itself into a Committee of Supply to consider the Administration’s second supplementary request from the national coffers to the tune of some billion.Monies allocated for the Legal Affairs Ministry was the first up for consideration, at which point concerns were raised over a $90 million transfer of monies for SARA.Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams indicated to the House that SARA falls under his remit following assent to the Legislative Instrument by the President on May 4, last.Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira attempted in vain to have Government postpone the consideration of the monies for SARA since, according to the law, there was no provision for a Minister to make a request but rather the Director of the outfit would present the budget directly to Parliament.The Attorney General insisted that he was within his remit since the Director was not being represented in Parliament.Concerns were raised too by former Minister within the Finance Ministry, Juan Edghill, who questioned on what authority Government was making a supplementary provision available for a unit for which there was no original budgetary provision.Coming to the aid of the Attorney General was Finance Minister Winston Jordan, who insisted that a Supplementary Paper was meant to amend the original budget in any fashion.“I fail to understand the question, this is a supplementary paper amending the original budget so that it doesn’t have to have a previous budget line item or whatever.”Bishop Edghill insisted that the Finance Minister show to the House under which section of the laws he was authorised to make such a provision.According to Jordan however, “I have answered that question already… if he feels we violated laws or the Constitution he have remedies… as for now, this is the last comment on the matter.”Former Minister with responsibility for Commerce, Irfaan Ali also raised concerns over the manner with which the monies for SARA were being pursued.FMAAAccording to Ali, the Financial Paper presented by Jordan failed miserably to meet the minimum requirements of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) which dictates what substantively must accompany such documents when being presented to the House for approval.The former Minister drew reference to contentions raised by now Vice President Carl Greenidge who was in Opposition at the time and had vehemently questioned the format with which the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration was presenting its budget.The discourse, however, attracted the intervention of Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, who drew reference to a 2013 ruling by the then Speaker of the House (himself).Trotman had ruled following the objections by then Opposition Member of Parliament Greenidge and had found that the Speaker did not have the power to dictate to Government in what format a budget should be presented.According to that ruling, it was for the House to accept or reject the financial requests being made by Government.Ali contested the notion and the applicability of the ruling since, according to him, the query did not deal with format but rather substance as dictated by the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.The former Speaker insisted that the format in which the Financial Paper was presented to the House followed precedent and that Government would in fact continue along the same vein.Former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall, also attempted to no avail to sway the Speaker’s judgment on the matter.He too contended that the ruling referenced was not applicable to the situation at hand, since the PPP’s objection did not deal with format but rather substance.SubsidyAccording to Nandlall, if it is the laws had been violated in the past, “then that is so but at some point in time we have to comply with the law.”Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland eventually informed the House that he had heard no arguments to sway his decision and that the House will be guided by the 2013 ruling made by Trotman.The $90 million allocation was represented as a Subsidy and Contribution to Local Organisations from the Legal Affairs Ministry to be turned over to SARA but another $26 million was also sought from the Legal Affairs Ministry budget for capital expenditure.According to the Legal Affairs Minister, the unit fell under his ministerial responsibility and as such the Ministry would be making the purchase of the two pick-ups and furniture and other accessories and they will be turned over to SARA.Questioned on the allocations that had been made to the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) – the outfit that preceded SARA – Attorney General Williams was unable to provide any answers since according to him, the Unit only fell under his remit from May.Some $19.7 million had been allocated to SARU for the purchase of vehicles but at the end of today’s process, parliamentarians were none the wiser as to what obtained with those monies.As it relates to the staffing of the Unit, Williams told the House that the Former Director, Professor Clive Thomas along with the deputy continue to hold the post.Grace periodOpposition Chief Whip Teixeira had pointed out to the House that it is the Parliamentary Committee of Appointments which is mandated to appoint a Director.Williams contends however that there is a four-month grace period that has not yet elapsed, and as such, the SARU Director continues to hold the post under the new SARA outfit.Opposition members during the course of the hours-long grilling session complained bitterly to the Speaker over the Attorney General’s refusal to provide information, instead opting to lay over at a later date.Among the information promised included the names and remunerations of those in the employ of SARA as well as breakdowns of monies already spent on the SARU outfit which was housed in the Ministry of the Presidency.He did indicate to the House that the SARA will be looking to rent its own accommodation with the approval of the funds.By the end of the session, related to the Legal Affairs Ministry and SARA in excess of $115 million had been approved by the coalition Government – despite the protestations of the Opposition – to operationalise SARA.A total of $89.9 million was voted as current expenditure to cater for salaries, rental, utilities and other such recurring expenditure; while $13 million was approved for the purchase of two pick up vehicles for the unit and another $13.4 million for the purchase of furnishing and other equipment.last_img

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