May 14, 2021
Relief budget debate eviscerated

It is very sad and yet another blot on our country that this week’s debate and passage of the supplementary budget following the volcanic eruption, should be marred by the completely unnecessary and preventable events of this Tuesday.

With the world demonstrating not only its humanitarian concerns about the fate of our people, but also its confidence in our ability to manage the relief and recovery, Parliament has let us down once again.

The posturing and refusal by Opposition leader Dr Godwin Friday to abide by the decision of the Speaker, caused her to take the drastic action of naming him and expelling him from the sitting. As is customary in such cases, this led to a walkout by the Opposition, so the budget debate was eviscerated and the Bill passed without Opposition scrutiny.

While undoubtedly the Opposition leader cannot be excused for his failure to prioritise, the Government and Prime Minister Gonsalves as Leader of the House, could have avoided all of this. Senator Ashelle Morgan could simply have been withdrawn from the sitting pending the outcome of investigations into the matter in which she is alleged to have been involved.

Of course the Opposition would have hailed it as a victory, but the bigger priority and victory for the country would have been to achieve democratic discussion and ratification of the supplementary budget. Surely that is much more important than what the government itself has described as a “side-show”, but it was a side-show that the Government must have foreseen and could have prevented from becoming centre stage and given prime time.

Here is a country with over 20,000 displaced persons, now dependent on the government for support; a country significantly dependent on agricultural production, suffering agricultural losses estimated at $175 million; massive infrastructural and environmental damage, desperately needing resuscitation. In response the Parliament of our country meets and approves a supplementary budget to address immediate needs, but what transpired pushed the passage of the bill into the background with most of the attention devoted instead to the puerile tantrums in the House and the protests outside.

SEARCHLIGHT is clear where we stand on the matter involving Senator Morgan, and this was expressed in our Midweek editorial of May 11, 2021. But surely there must be other ways to highlight this, rather than once again walking out of the House and depriving the country of the views of the Opposition on the crisis, and its own proposals for redress.

The Budget, in addition to the necessary humanitarian provisions, contains some important provisions for post-eruption recovery. These include vital income support for persons returning to devastated areas, the environmental cleanup and support for reviving agricultural production, not only in the devastated red and orange zones but in other affected areas as well. We must never, while agitating for fairness, transparency and decency, get distracted from national priorities and lose sight of the main event.