Thursday 23 May, 2019

Imbert: Budget needed to be passed to pay salaries, help flood victims

Finance Minister Colm Imbert has provided a breakdown of the importance of the budget debate in the Senate on Monday, which saw Opposition members storm out.

Led by Khadijah Ameen, the United National Congress slammed the Government’s decision to attempt to continue the debate amidst widespread flooding across Trinidad and Tobago. Ameen said the day should have been dubbed one of volunteerism.

However, Minister Imbert notes that the process needed to be completed in order to ensure that funds are available for the running of the country.

According to the release, the Minister is seeking to provide clarification on the process for the passage of the Appropriation Bill 2019 in the Parliament and the assent of same by the President.

He says the Government’s Financial Year commences on October 1st and ends on September 30th of the following year. He says all government expenditure must be made in accordance with the Appropriation Act for the particular Financial Year. 

However, until the Appropriation Bill 2019 is assented to by the President and made an Act, the Law provides for the establishment of a voting account, to accommodate government expenditure, up to a maximum of ten percent of the previous year’s appropriation for the first month of the new financial year, i.e. October 2018.

This voting account ceases to be effective on November 1st, 2018   Therefore, without the new Appropriation Act, the government is unable to expend any funds from November 1st. 

Imbert notes that for the Financial Year 2018/19, debate on the Appropriation Bill 2019 commenced in the House of Representatives on October 10th, 2018 and the House resolved itself into the Standing Finance Committee (SFC) to consider the proposals in the Bill and the estimates of expenditure. The SFC concluded its examination on the Bill on October 16th, 2018 and the Bill was passed in the Lower House on the same day.

The debate on the Bill then commenced in the Senate on October 19th, 2018 and concluded on October 22nd, 2018 with the passage of the Bill.

Having been passed in the Senate, there are several administrative mechanisms which must be effected before the Bill is forwarded to the President for assent. These are:

- Proof of the Act is sent to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and the Director of Budgets, Ministry of Finance for vetting and return.  Thereafter, any corrections received are inserted in the proof;

- The proof of the Act is sent to the government printer for printing of assent copies.  Four of these assent copies are signed by the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of the Senate;

- The Bill file along with the four signed assent copies are sent to the Office of the Solicitor General for preparation of the Legal Report of the Attorney General;

- Upon completion of the preparation of the Legal Report, the Office of the Solicitor General will forward the Bill file and the Legal Report for the signature of the Attorney General. Thereafter, the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs will return the Bill file to the Office of the Parliament;

- The Office of the Parliament sends the four (4) signed assent copies to the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for assent.

Imbert says only upon conclusion of the above administrative process, can he sign the general warrant authorizing the Comptroller of Accounts to issue monies from the consolidated fund to meet government’s expenditure for the Financial Year 2019.

He says if this did not occur, there would be no 2019 budget.

“The Parliamentary Opposition is very aware of the requirements of the annual budgetary exercise and understands fully that had the Budget debate not been completed in both Houses of Parliament there would be no appropriation for Fiscal 2019, which began on October 1st, 2018. In short, a delay in the completion of the budget debate in the Senate would have made it very difficult for the Government to pay salaries for public servants and workers in statutory authorities, such as the RHAs, cover its debt and provide essential services, provide wages for flood relief workers, the defence force and the protective services who have gone above and beyond the call of duty over the last several days, or provide emergency grants and supplies for those affected by flooding.”

The Finance Minister says for this reason, the 2019 Budget had to be debated and passed in the Senate as a matter of urgency.

 

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