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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Where’s the Budget?

DR CLYDE MASCOLL, [email protected]

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Where’s the Budget?

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THERE IS ONGOING UNCERTAINTY over whether the Minister of Finance will present a budget or a ministerial statement in the Parliament of Barbados prior to Christmas.

A televised Budget debate is not in the interest of the Government, since there is hardly any good news to present to the public. This is unfortunate in the context of the country’s state of economic crisis.

In the circumstances, unfortunately the politics is paramount and so a ministerial statement is the preferred option as it avoids full-scale debate on the economic issues confronting the country.

This approach fits squarely into the four walls of thought that would have informed the Government not to make public, the Barbados Economic And Social Report 2013, which does not require a debate but simply to be laid in Parliament.

Even if the Minister of Finance does not intend to have a Budget or ministerial statement earlier in the year, what is he trying to avoid in not laying the report in the Parliament of Barbados?

The only thing that the minister is required to do with respect to the finances of the Government is to have a debate of the Estimates, since an Appropriation Bill has to be approved to legitimise Government spending at the start of the fiscal year in April.

The Budget, as we know it, was designed to give the public the benefit of the Government’s understanding of where the economy is, especially with respect to the financing of its deficit, and how the Government proposes to raise the financing of which taxation is an option.

Perhaps the perceived irrelevance of a traditional budget has to do with the persistent poverty that has unprecedentedly characterised the country’s fiscal condition for the past seven years.

It was made known by none other than the governor of the Central Bank, only a few weeks ago, that the Minister of Finance was bringing a set of fiscal measures, including further taxation, in a budget or statement.

Such time has elapsed for the minister to know that there has been further deterioration in the fiscal position, which requires too elaborate an explanation for contradiction and lack of clarity not to be, as is usual, the order of the day in his presentation.

Postponement preferred

Therefore the politically correct thing to do, notwithstanding the country’s sad state, is a simple, shorter unchallenged statement. And given that the Estimates debate is compulsory in March of next year, a postponement of the misery is preferred.

It is now practice to do something tomorrow that can be done today in the hope that the difference in time creates a window of political opportunity, since the economy is a toy that can be played with without serious consequences. Such a belief has seen Barbadians having to pay a very heavy price in terms of unemployment, higher taxation and cost of living.

To make matters worse, this country had grown accustomed to knowing the contents of the Central Bank’s Annual Report as early as April; this too has not be made public and so almost at the end of 2014, the 2013 report is unavailable.

Gone are the days when the Budget debate was rich and contentious with the annual report serving proudly as the economic “bible”; such lofty heights are no longer associated with the high towers.

Report not timely

Remarkably in an age of vastly superior technology, the Central Bank’s Annual Report has been reduced to just another document that the public sees much later in the year, when its contents are virtually useless from the perspective of timing. Given the latter, the highlight now is to identify the losses of the bank. Also gone are the days when the bank made its biggest profits during an economic downturn.

It remains bewildering that in a period of prolonged economic crisis, the public is undeserving of more timely information on the performance of the economy and its major economic institution. What passed in the past as political posturing with respect to having a Budget in a set time or not is not a luxury that the current administration can afford or is deserving of.

Performance and privilege must go hand in hand and so the administration’s ongoing gamesmanship is inappropriate. If time is money, then timely information is the interest.

The cost for not demanding the facts on a timely basis can be debilitating to the economy and society in ways that are becoming increasingly apparent to all Barbadians.