The People’s United Party and the Government of Belize were back in court today. As we reported yesterday, the opposition is seeking the court’s intervention to stop the government from spending monies without getting approval from the House of Representatives. Each year the government goes to a budget debate where they present the Consolidated Revenue Fund, or in simpler terms, they make projections on how much they will spend for the year in the various sectors. If throughout the year the Government experiences situations that require additional spending not outlined in the budget, by law, they are to take it to Parliament for approval. The problem, however, is that neither the PUP nor the UDP have been following the law. On multiple occasions under both parties, monies were spent without a supplementary budget going to the House for approval. Fast forward to today and the PUP is hoping to put a stop to this unlawful practice. This is how the two parties ended up in court. Today was the second and final day of the case which saw Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, comment on the case and the declarations brought forth by the opposition.
Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary: “It’s not unaccounted for. This is your audit report for financial year 2012-2013, indeed and I use the word ‘slippage’ we have not put the supplementary request to the house. To put things in perspective that supplementary $100 million may sound like a lot of money but it’s about 10% of the overall budget for that year and in fact when you look at all the supplementaries they list still it’s within 7-8% of the total spending over that period which the average budget is about $900 million a year and this is going back to 2005 or so, 2004 was the list of supplementaries.”
Reporter: Isn’t that somewhat trivializing it though by reducing it to simply 10%?
Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary: “No. I mean I’m saying look, it may sound like a big figure but when you put it in perspective it is still within a single digit number and remember these supplementaries go back beyond the life of their current government. In fact the current government is doing supplementaries that they inherited so to speak but nevertheless indeed the supplementaries have been late in being put to the house and in fact we have conceded that. It’s been an age old-practice, we want to fix it, in fact if you look you can see the frequency of the supplementaries have been coming faster- indeed a little late. But I remember as a young man many years ago we did ten years worth of supplementaries at one time so it shows in fact there’s been you can say a breach in the following of the law; we’re trying to catch up on it.”
According to Waight, due to the number of supplementary, there are a few that were missed or slipped them in the Ministry of Finance.
Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary: “Remember it’s all divided into three areas there’s a recurrent, there’s a capital 2, capital 3, I really need to delve down to find where these numbers came from, some other supplementaries are much larger; the 175 I think was for compensation but it’s all known. The problem is once it drew out to our attention we tried to get it corrected. Why it slipped? Well look there are 23 of them and this one year it went past us. We’re trying to correct it, we will correct it. Once we caught up that in fact that year had not been addressed we put a team together on it. The head of the team got sick, has been out for some time, we’re trying to do it without him and we will finish it by the end of the year but remember the Ministry of Finance is perhaps one of the smallest ministries in the government numbers wise with staff and we have some big responsibilities. I’m not saying it as an excuse but it’s just the reality of the situation. While we may be late in submitting, it’s a procedural matter, but there’s no mention and I should stress clearly that there is no mention that there is no mention that there is any misappropriation or impropriety with use of the money. In fact we have been very clear or go to pains to speak about the spending of the PetroCaribe funds at every time in the budget speech it’s not a secret and in fact the supplementals have a scheduling showing what has been spent where so there is disclosure.”
Waight went on to say that there is nothing unconstitutional about what has happened.
Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary: “They were asking for three declarations and what we’re saying is that indeed we may have been late in submitting but these supplementary appropriation bills have been passed so money has been spent I mean so to then ask for declaration , go further to say that it’s void really makes no practical purpose it has already been spent, parliament has already passed it I mean it’s an after the fact, so to void it where will that put you. That was one of the declarations, the second was and I’m putting them out of order, another declaration they were requesting was that it was unconstitutional, I think we mounted a rigorous defense argument, a convincing we hope that in fact that it’s not unconstitutional. He went through in fact that it allows for these special funds and therefore it is consistent with the constitution.”