January 22, 2010
The Budget and politics


Just as the Old Year closed with the political implications of the November referendum competing for attention with the Christmas celebrations, so too have political matters quickly inserted themselves at the top of the agenda in 2010.{{more}}

On Tuesday of this week, January 19, the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the year 2010 were laid before the House of Assembly. Next week, the Budget debates will formally commence following the Throne Speech by the Governor General and the Prime Minister’s Budget Address. It is possible, though not likely, that this will be the last Budget before the holding of the next general elections, but that would depend on a host of political and economic factors. However, coming after the government’s failure to secure approval of a new Constitution for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and as a prelude to the intense campaigning expected during this year, the 2010 Budget will have special significance.

The politics of the Budget will be especially interesting. Already there are indications of what to expect this year, with the organizing of a picket of Parliament by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and a counter-demonstration by supporters of the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP). If we are to judge by these, this year promises to bring a lot of political confrontation.

Having listened to the Parliamentary debate on the Estimates, and with the bigger picture to be completed next week with the full Budget debate, one cannot help but wonder whether our Parliamentarians have a clear idea of what the debate on the Estimates is all about. From the contributions of the various Parliamentarians, one can only come to the conclusion that they view it as a dry run for the Budget debate. Little emerged in terms of helping to clarify issues emanating from the Estimates or putting them in any better order. Scoring political points was the order of the day. Do we then need such a debate? How relevant or useful was it, when MPs kept “holding back their shots” for next week? When next we as a nation, choose to revisit constitutional reform, then such political issues must be borne in mind.

The other political issue of note came in the Prime Minister’s New Year address when he announced some changes to his Parliamentary and Cabinet team. Political pundits will argue whether those changes are sufficient or whether it is a case of “too little, too late”. The changes in persons sitting as Senators see yet another young lawyer being advanced. This has been the pattern ever since the ULP took office. We are not questioning the quality of the persons chosen, but simply saying that it gives the impression of an over-reliance on the legal profession for political capital. Is that a healthy trend?

The performance of the government during the next 12 to15 months will be crucial in its bid for a third successive term. It has been wounded by the referendum results and the thrust of the Budget and implementation of policies to be outlined next week will have great bearing on the outcome of the next elections.