THE BUDGET HAS been delivered, the reply has been given and the debate wrapped up.
Looking around us, after all the talk over three days in the House of Assembly, the sky hasn’t fallen in, yet, and those of us still alive, well, we’re still breathing mostly fresh air.
I wonder why it should take a Minister of Finance three hours to present the Budget.
Yes, it is good to put things in context and give the background, but really, just over 180 minutes to say more taxes, direct and indirect, and no we are not going to follow the suggestions made by Professor Michael Howard, former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Owen Arthur or a host of other recommendations from people who understand and some who don’t have a clue.
Of course, the housewife and mother who must balance a budget and still ensure that there is household growth may very well have some words of wisdom in all these economic and financial matters.
Understandably, the Opposition’s spokesperson on finance and economic affairs, who on this occasion happens to be Barbados Labour Party leader Mia Mottley, could not possibly speak for a minute shorter than Chris Sinckler.
It would be said by her opponents that she is not up to the job. To prove she is on top of things she should be speaking even after the Speaker says it’s time to wrap up.
This annual exercise is one that takes a special position on the national calendar if only because it impacts the nation, for better or worse.
But, really, what can the people do once a Minister of Finance has delivered the Budget.
Steupse? Abuse the minister, cuss and carry on, repeat what some armchair critic says, follow a party line, or use the buzz words of the day? Of course we can engage in the intellectual exercise with experts giving all sorts of opinions.
The reality is that the Budget always seems to play out a few weeks and months after it has been delivered. Not even the experts in the Government, whether in the various ministries or agencies such as the Barbados Revenue Authority, seem to be clear on the way forward. So there is always a lot of guessing and assuming.
Take the case this year of the manufacturers, the international business sector and perhaps every business. To add to the confusion, I wonder whether companies repatriating profits will have to pay a two per cent commission on those transactions.
What would be good is if there is some reform to the Budget.
Why is it necessary for all the members of the House of Assembly to speak? A public opinion service of the electorate would show that a large number of them are tuned out and I suspect with each passing year more and more people are not listening.
Why should a Budget debate be on live on our lone local television station all day and until past midnight on the final day?
Why not have a select committee on finance and economic affairs address the Budget issues?
The special interest groups and the various experts who emerge at Budget time should be giving of their expertise throughout the year as part of the process of informing and enlightening the public on these matters which will impact their livelihood.
One of the most interesting points to have arisen from this most recent Budget exercise is the contribution of the former Prime Minister Arthur. It was about his role as a former minister of finance and as an economist. There is a certain brand recognition and credibility which comes with his name and this issue of public finance.
The rapt attention of those in the public gallery and indeed of the elected officials on either side of the divide told a story. So too did the applause at the end of his presentation.
What a pity it would be to let him simply go off into the sunset when he vacates his parliamentary seat. Barbados needs a private think tank to draw on people like him, economists Andrew Downes and Howard, Sir Roy Trotman, Dennis Clarke, Harold Hoyte, Ken Hewitt, Sir David Simmons, DeLisle Worrell, and so many others who still have so much to offer this country outside of the narrow confines of partisan politics.
Don’t let us miss the boat as we did with Sir Lloyd Sandiford.
As for the Budget, the reply and the debate, the process needs revisiting. We need more fresh air, not less.