R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
February 15, 2019
The budget

With the passage of the 2019 Budget by the House of Assembly, the various sectors of society are now taking a deeper look at how the measures outlined will impact on the society, for better or worse. Strangely, this year’s Budget has not been as controversial as some others in the past, though not for want of trying by some elements in the Opposition.

The Budget marks a start to SVG’s 40th anniversary of the reclaiming of our independence in October 1979. The Government has indicated that it will mark this achievement with what Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves called “a wide-ranging and multi-faceted programme of reflection and reinvention”, dubbed Renewal @40. However it is important that a broad-based body, not just a governmental or ULP one, be set up to organize activities befitting the occasion and to try and involve people of all persuasions.

There is no doubt that our society has come a long way in those 40 years to the extent that we boast of a BILLION DOLLAR Budget in 2019. On both sides of the House there was much ado about this billion dollar milestone, but the truth is that it represents a natural progression in our development process as much as it reflects inflation. That is not to downplay our advancement, just an attempt to keep it in perspective. While many fundamental problems persist, we have come a long way as a society.

The Budget itself, entitled a “ Foundation for Growth, Jobs and Transformative Sustainable Development”, was well presented by the Finance Minister, another sign of his own growth and development. Yet the proof of the proverbial pudding will be in its eating. To what extent will the grand plans be implemented and how effectively? As I indicated last week, it is in the implementation process that the fall-down, and fall-out, often happens.

Nevertheless, I must give kudos to the Finance Minister for his presentation. Even the veteran former Prime Minister, Hon. Arnhim Eustace, to his credit, congratulated Minister Gonsalves, a rare compliment from the Opposition benches. In fact, Mr Eustace’s presentation during the Budget must be one of his best ever, exhibiting a level of statesmanship that has not always been on offer. The Government, and PM Gonsalves in particular, have constantly berated him for over-caution and even negativity, but his warnings about the inviolability of the NIS funds and, even if one disagrees, his plug for the Citizenship by Invitation Programme, must have set minds thinking.

Clearly, on the latter issue, the Government has good reason to be more than sceptical, but, given the growing acceptance of many, looking for a quick fix to our financial problems, it is important to educate our citizens on the matter. In addition, Government must not only listen to alternative views, but also APPEAR TO BE LISTENING. Too many people seem to believe that is not the case. Persuasion is a much more powerful weapon than simply dismissing alternative views.

This brings me to the Opposition benches. I was once more disappointed by the lack of a narrative on that side. The Budget presentation came with a narrative, a framework within which the Government’s proposals were outlined. One expects an ALTERNATIVE VISION from the Opposition giving us a choice of path. Except for the CBI issue, one got only nitpicking and the eternal promises of “Vote for me, and I’ll set you free”, in other words, an NDP government will solve all our problems.

That is not good enough. There are people in this country looking for an alternative, but the persistent political “bad-johnism” and “rude boy” and “rude girl” tactics will not do. In addition, does the Leader of the Opposition have to be the lead responder on the Budget? His was a disappointing performance, causing one to ask if there should not have been a lead spokesperson on Finance. We cannot perpetuate this fallacy that the Leader has to do all. We need a break with this approach.

Finally, my highest praise goes to the Speaker of the House, Hon. Jomo Thomas, for the leadership and impartiality he displayed in keeping the debate in focus. He was never afraid to challenge and rein in Parliamentarians, on both sides, who sometimes let their egos get the better of them. It is a most refreshing break from the past when perceived lack of impartiality led to a breakdown in orderly discourse.

It is a pity that our society has not matured to the extent that Mr Thomas can be seen by both sides as a fair arbiter and thus supported for continuing in that role. In some societies, the UK for instance, the Speaker is unopposed at the polls. That would not happen here, but would it not be good if Mr Thomas was not in electoral politics and both sides could agree, irrespective of the outcome of the next elections, to support him for impartiality and commonsense in Parliament?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.