Constitutional agencies will continue to enjoy financial autonomy – Dr Singh

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By Kurt Campbell

The National Assembly on Thursday gave the nod for the amendment to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA), which will increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which Parliament could consider the budget of constitutional agencies.

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government defended its decision to repeal a 2015 amendment to FMAA which saw the budget for constitutional agencies being sent to the National assembly in advance of the submission of the rest of the National Budget.

Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh, told the National Assembly that the amendment complicated the process for consideration of the National Budget and also violated the underlying principle that the government is responsible for the spending of taxpayers’ dollars.

Dr Singh has assured that the government’s move to repeal the 2015 amendment will not affect the financial autonomy that the agencies enjoy. He said with the government remaining answerable for the spending of taxpayers’ money, then it must also be allowed to interrogate the spending of the constitutional agencies through the Audit Office and the Ministry of Finance.

Dr Singh, who opened the debate on the amendment in the House during the second reading of the Bill, reasoned that if the underlying principle is to hold the executive accountable for public funds and fiscal outcomes, then it must have the authority to ensure accountability.

“The function of ensuring the achievement of the fiscal outcome rests with the Minister with responsibility for Finance and the government he represents… so the 2015 amendment violated the principle that requires the executive involvement in the management of public finances,” Dr Singh said.

The critical piece of legislation seeks to amend the FMAA Chapter 73:02.

Arising from the 2015 amendment to the FMAA by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), constitutional agencies’ budgets were required to be sent to the National Assembly in advance of the rest of the National Budget.

This two-stage process resulted in a fragmented and inefficient process for consideration of the National Budget and denied the Parliament an opportunity to view and consider the budget in a comprehensive manner, Dr Singh said.

Members of Parliament from both sides of the House debated the amendment before it was put to a vote. The government side used its majority in the House to have the amendment passed. It comes as the government is preparing to present the 2021 National Budget in the house within the coming weeks.

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