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Opposition senators slams Gov’t over error in Appropriation Act

Published:Saturday | April 13, 2024 | 12:11 AM

Members of the parliamentary Opposition on Friday sought to castigate the Government for presiding over the passage of the Appropriation Act with statutory expenditures “inadvertently” included in the schedule, which is not in keeping with a provision in the Constitution.

Following its passage in the Lower House earlier this week, the Senate on Friday debated the Appropriations (Amendment) Act.

Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, told her parliamentary colleagues that debate on the bill was being done to correct a transcription error so that it could be passed.

“I am unaware of any constitutional issue that affects the operation of the bill because the nature of the error in respect of the inclusion of some statutory heads of expenditure, which shouldn’t have been included because they have already been voted for,” she said.

Arguing that the error that was being corrected did not affect the $1.3-billion Budget, Johnson Smith insisted that there was no change in the Budget.

However, opposition senator Donna Scott Mottley argued that the Constitution states that statutory expenditures must not be in the Appropriations Act.

Checks and balances

The Upper House or the review chamber of the bi-cameral legislature was also criticised for falling down on the job when it passed the Appropriations Act with the glaring error.

“This kind of scrutiny, which is required in the Upper House, is sometimes quite lacking,” Scott Mottley said.

She questioned how a transcription error could have escaped so many checks and balances in the first instance, including the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

Portfolio Minister Dr Nigel Clarke did not escape criticism from Scott Mottley, who declared that the error in the Appropriations Act represented a red card for the finance minister.

“When you have props being pulled out and red cards being given out, it reflects very negatively on this administration and it raises some serious governance issues, which we cannot just slide by as a transcription error,” she said.

Arguing that the Appropriations Act was the most significant law that was moved through the Parliament, Scott Mottley added: “In the context of the way in which the minister of finance presented his Budget, it is disturbing because it reflects very negatively on him.”

But Johnson Smith insisted that the error caused no disruption in government activities.

“There is, in fact, an error to be corrected in the bill, but we recognise that there is no error in the Budget. There is no error in any money allocated to any ministry. There is, however, a transcription error that can be corrected by the bill before us today,” Johnson Smith added.

Earlier during the Senate proceedings, opposition lawmaker Lambert Brown, who was commenting on a motion to determine whether the bill should be debated, said there was a requirement in the parliamentary system that a bill, once passed by both Houses, must be certified by the attorney general that it conforms with the Constitution of Jamaica.

He wanted to know if the Appropriations Act that was first passed about two weeks ago was certified by the attorney general.

Brown also questioned whether the governor general gave his assent to the bill on the basis of advice by the attorney general that it met the constitutional requirement.

He further queried whether the same attorney general, who had the job to certify that the bill did not contravene the Constitution, was the same attorney general who then told the Cabinet that it was not in conformity with the supreme law.

“Who is going to suffer the consequences? Is there a resignation on the cards?”

After a lengthy debate, the Appropriations (Amendment) Act received the nod from the Senate.