Posted on

PEOPLE & THINGS: Budget spells no early poll

Peter Wickham

PEOPLE & THINGS: Budget spells no early poll

Social Share

In anticipation of this year’s Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals, I said it was likely to be politically “flat” and in his presentation, Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler essentially satisfied this expectation.
His last presentation was for many reasons filled with political intrigue which was partially fuelled by the fact that it was his first and also because we knew that our country faced a major financial crisis which needed to be addressed.
On the last occasion, the Minister’s style of presentation was clearly impressive and the dose of taxation appeared to be such that it was unlikely he would have needed to raise fresh taxes this time around. We therefore got the sense the minister identified the problem which he had the capacity and a plan to address.  
It is for these reasons that there was less anticipation on this occasion. Certainly, if it had been a “giveaway” Budget, we could reasonably have assumed that there would be an early general election, which there clearly will not be.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s style appears to favour an election “when necessary” and we can safely assume that such considerations will not become politically relevant until the last quarter of 2012, which means we can anticipate another and presumably “sweet” Budget sometime in 2012.
Aside from the economic issues which are perhaps better handled elsewhere, this Budget appeared to be more of an administrative exercise in which the minister of finance tinkered with a few policies but did not deviate from his stated objective to reduce the fiscal deficit without sending home workers, while ensuring the economy does not slip back into recession.
This broad political objective was easily achieved on this occasion; however, it was clear that the minister had a few other objectives which are of political interest.
One major administrative objective appears to have been the effort to return the Budget to its former location at the commencement of the financial year, around the time the Estimates are delivered.
Sinckler’s first Budget was less than a year ago. However, if we acknowledge that the Budget was late last year and feel there is a logic to delivering it at the beginning and not the end of the financial year, one could reasonably expect to receive another Budget in less than 12 months. Sinckler indicated he would have preferred June this year which is seven months after the November 2010 Budget.  
This could potentially have shaved five months off the year and we presume that next year he can present another instrument closer to the more “normal” April date.
Once this objective is achieved, it not only allows for Government’s budgetary process to be considerably more tidy, but also allows the minister to consider the type of budgetary reform his predecessor claimed to be pursuing which would have ultimately seen a single presentation with both the Estimates and Budget. Naturally, I am also partial to this type of budgetary evolution and hope it can be part of the minister’s programme.
There was also some amount of political significance in the minister’s declaration on energy policy, both from the perspective of his absolute refusal to reintroduce a gasoline subsidy as well as the articulation of clear preference for alternative energy.  
The former is a politically attractive, short-term solution to our energy consumption problems. However, this route can only ever be short-term with severe negative consequences if it is allowed to remain in place.
The minister’s preferred route is to encourage our shift to alternative and presumably renewable energy sources which do not offer the same political attraction as a fuel subsidy, but it is considerably more sustainable and does much to convince us that he has a serious long-term developmental objective for this country.
Several responses to the Budget stand out, but none more than that of Opposition Leader Owen Arthur. Last year, I was critical of his presentation style which did not appear to benefit from a script. However, on this occasion he seemed to return to “form”, so to speak, and delivered a response that was considerably more focused and made some points worthy of consideration.  
Sadly, one of the hallmarks of a “good” Owen Arthur presentation is an attack on someone and in this instance former Opposition Leader Mia Mottley was on the receiving end of a “back-handed” slap when he declared he was not present at Cabinet when an important decision that related to the new prison was taken.
This statement appeared to shift blame for issues, over which concern has been expressed, away from him and towards her in a way that is unfortunate both in the context of our governance and also from the perspective of healing within the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
In contrast, Mottley’s presentation clearly sought to “hover above” the politics as she presented a developmental response that is characteristic of her new political stance.
Last year, in a similar vein, she highlighted an alternative path that we can all agree would be far more productive than the politically contentious approach we now take.
However, we are yet to hear the specifics of how we can get the BLP’s and Democratic Labour Party’s leaders to come on board with these ideas.