January 17, 2023
The Budget and the people

The boycott by the Opposition of the final day’s proceedings in the House of Assembly last weekend, the umpteenth over the past decade and a half, has served to highlight the problems in governance facing our people. It seems that every time there is some major matter before Parliament, there is some distraction staged by opposition MPs which seem to get more attention than the critical matters before the House for approval.

While generally, the debate in parliament over the 2023 Budget has been less fractious than many in the past, we still witnessed examples of how not to conduct the business of the people. Unfortunately, any time we get these personal clashes in the House, they seem to divert public attention away from the substantive business before parliament. When will we experience a greater degree of responsibility and maturity on the part of our Parliamentarians?

The very nature of the presentation of the Budget itself before Parliament already creates problems with the ordinary people being able to follow and understand the Budget.

In the first place, in spite of the constant reminders that we are building a “many-sided, post- colonial economy”, the Budget exercise itself is steeped in colonial trappings. How could we make it more relevant so that it becomes easier for our people to comprehend?

In the first place, the Budget presentation comes heavily enveloped in colonial pomp and ceremony.

We even have a “throne Speech” delivered by the Governor General. Where is our “throne”? Is it not time to be rid of such irrelevancies? How many people pay serious attention to the contents of this presentation?

The structure of the Budget debate itself also presents challenges for most of the population. First there is the 4-5 hour marathon presentation by the Minister of Finance, not easy to imbibe at the end of a long day.

Admittedly, it is not easy to address this without losing the significance of the content, but surely, this is not beyond us.

Then each MP wants time to address issues of both a national as well as constituency level. This is both desirable and understandable but it is amazing that the parliamentarians do not take time to organize constituency gatherings to discuss the Budget and how it relates to the people of the respective constituencies and communities. When elections are in the air, there is no shortage of constituency public meetings and rallies, so why not for the annual Budget exercise?

The overall aim must be to simplify and popularize the Budget exercise so as to get more people directly involved in both understanding the exercise as well as participating in it.

Broadening and deepening participation will go a long way towards developing political and economic literacy among our people.