Debate on the National Budget should not be merely an academic exercise
January 5, 2024
Debate on the National Budget should not be merely an academic exercise

Right on the heels of the holidays, Vincentians will have to come to grips with the realities of their economic situation when the 2024 National Budget will be presented to the House of Assembly (Parliament) next Monday followed by debate and expected passage.

Given the importance of this exercise, the Budget itself and the debate on it ought to command national attention. This is especially so coming not only at the beginning of the year but also at the onset of what is considered locally as the “hard guava-crop season”, meaning the difficult financial period following the spending of the Christmas season.

Unfortunately, while that ought to be the case, too often we seem to get distracted by what are relatively subsidiary matters driven by social media and radio comments as well as politically driven agendas.

No doubt, a lot of personal resolutions have been made, but whatever their content, it is vital that the focus be placed on what can we as a nation do differently and better this year to improve the lives of all, and how can we take more positive approaches to find solutions to the many challenges facing our nation.

It would be great if our Parliamentarians could take the lead as they engage in the Budget debate. For a start, it has been difficult over the years for our Parliamentarians to come to grasp with the fact that Parliament itself, and the critical Budget exercise in particular, are not there to provide a show ground or host some political showdown. It is a serious exercise which, if treated as such by those entrusted with that responsibility, would go a long way towards encouraging listeners to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.

Yes, the very nature of Parliamentary cut-and-thrust produces fiery debate sometimes but very often these are not based on the fundamental issues facing our country and people as much as on trivial issues arising from comments made. We must not only maintain perspectives on an exercise which will affect the lives of us all but lead the way in providing solutions to our national challenges.

It was encouraging to say the least, to hear from the Leader of the Opposition during the Estimates debate that his party supports the essential items in the capital budget. One can in fact take such an approach while pointing out any flaws in it, providing alternatives and also demonstrating how one’s implementation approach would not only differ but be an improvement.

Indeed, while in general, the major economic and social projects undertaken by this government over the past two decades were generally appropriate to meeting the formidable challenges before us, its shortfalls seem to have come in its approaches to implementation and the attitudes of some thrust into positions of responsibility for which they seemed either unprepared or ill-suited. Also, talking about new approaches, the accountability promised by the Prime Minister a decade or so ago, has yet to be manifested. We must hold our leaders to their word.

So, as we look forward to next week’s exercise, let us appeal to our people to try and pay greater attention to the content of the Budget, to try to understand what the various proposals mean for us, how they will affect our lives, and try to become more informed so that we can make a greater contribution to our country’s development.