Finance Minister clarifies error in Appropriations Act

By Nakinskie Robinson    
Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke has sought to clarify the error made in the Appropriations Act 2024.
Dr. Clarke said that the error was not in the budgetary documents tabled in Parliament in February, but rather, in Section 2 of the approved Appropriations bill.
Education Minister Fayval Williams, in Dr. Clarke's absence, piloted an amendment to the Act on Tuesday, which revealed that the statutory expenditures voted on were in contravention of the law.
Statutory expenditures are amounts that are charged on the Consolidated Fund or the general revenues and assets of Jamaica by virtue of a provision in the Constitution or any other law in force.
On Friday morning, Dr. Clarke explained that the foul up was a transcription error, that has no implications on statutory expenditures including pensions and other payments, as is being purported by the opposition.
Dr. Clarke, who sought to defend the integrity of his portfolio, argued that the error was promptly noticed and Parliament was asked to reconvene, bringing light to the matter. 
"There have been a lot of propaganda and efforts to confuse. As soon as that was brought to my attention, shortly after the budget debate, we would have made contact later that week with the House Leader, et cetera. There is nothing in the amendment bill that changes the total amount of expenditure or the total for any ministry. 
"You will see five columns with numbers. So you have the rows, each Ministry, Department or Agency, and then the columns in terms of numbers: Statutory, Gross Expenditure to be Voted, Appropriations in Aid, Net Expenditure to be Voted, and Net Provisions in Estimates (Included Statutory). In the Appropriation Act, the fifth column was included in the Appropriation Act instead of the fourth," the minister sought to explain. 
Dr. Clarke, who was speaking on Radio Jamaica's Hotline on Friday, said it was important not to shy away from correcting mistakes, rather than focusing on the criticism. 
"I've been focused on correcting it rather than to go into the individual. Take into account that there are 63 members of Parliament. There's a Standing Finance Committee, et cetera, and none of the members of Parliament picked it up either."  
He also defended his absence from Tuesday's special sitting of the House, noting that he had prior arrangements for international business in Hong Kong.
The minister explained that the error, which also resulted in a breach of the Constitution, did not invalidate any warrants issued, given that none was issued during the period.
This had been a concern highlighted by Shadow Finance Minister Julian Robinson in Parliament.
A warrant is a certified instruction to the Accountant General to debit the approved expenditure from the Consolidated Fund for approved expenditure. 
Meanwhile, Government Senator Sherene Golding Campbell did not mince words in defending the Finance Minister.
The amendment to the Appropriations Act was debated in the Senate on Friday morning, where Mrs Golding Campbell chided the opposition for trumpeting the matter, only after the government identified and sought to correct it. 
"Though the error may not have occurred before, it's not a difficult error to make. And I don't want us to politicise unfairly something that could have happened to anyone under any administration. And I do not trivialise the import of having an accurate Appropriations bill, but what I reject is the use of language, like 'unconstitutional', without providing any evidence. I urge my colleagues to let us get on with the people's business and stop wasting time in the name of politics," she insisted. 

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