ALBERT BRANDFORD: Will Budget be delivered on May 5?
Mr Speaker, Sir, precisely sixteen months ago we called upon all Barbadians to sacrifice in order that we can reap the benefits of necessary stabilisation and adjustment in the economy. – Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Ministerial Statement on the Economy in the House of Assembly, December 16, 2014.
THE MINISTER OF FINANCE boasted: “Today, I can say to the country that, based on actual performances and projections for the immediate future, we have not laboured in vain. Barbados is on a growth path once again!
“Our foreign exchange reserves have stabilised; our fiscal deficit is on a downward trajectory and economic growth is returning. By any objective standard the programme is working!”
Upon rereading those words, one can almost hear the Minister of Finance’s crowing and a certain self-satisfied gloating as he slid into his smug, near perfect imitation of the neck movements of his late mentor and predecessor, David Thompson, when he had reached a certain point in a presentation.
When the House of Assembly rose on Friday, April 10, with an announced return date of Tuesday, May 5, there was some speculation that Barbadians were about to see a reversion to the traditional black box Budget Day, with all of its theatrical accompaniment, which in recent times we appeared to be in grave danger of losing.
Readers will recall that the 2014 Ministerial Statement (which according to the Standing Orders is not debated) was in lieu of the black box Budget, which although itself a “Ministerial Statement” is only debated through the use of a parliamentary device known as a “take note” resolution.
In that statement, Sinckler recalled that in a recent news conference he had “hinted” that Government “would shortly initiate the process that would lead to the presentation of the Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals for 2014. Though I had not specified a date, it was my initial intention to complete this presentation during December”.
As we all know, December came and swiftly went by, but there was no Budget.
The Minister revealed, however, that following some consultations and an analysis of the 19-month stabilisation programme “the Cabinet has accepted the advice of the Ministry of Finance to defer the presentation of the Budget [until] after the end of the programme in March 2015”.
“In light of the fact that this decision has been taken, I have been authorised by the Cabinet of Barbados to present this official Ministerial Statement updating the current status of our programmes, including some more recent economic figures, the road map towards achieving our fiscal targets for [the] end of fiscal 2014-2015 and beyond, and existing prospects for economic growth and reform in 2015.”
The upshot of it was that there was no Budget and we are well into April 2015 without a Budget in sight.
But the Minister is good at “explanations” and “hinting”.
As April threatened to steal away without the promised Budget, the Minister explained to the NATION’s Editor-in-Chief Roy Morris in a telephone interview published April 6, that all his work was done and he was ready to make his presentation toward the end of the month “but noted that a holiday on Tuesday, April 28 (Heroes Day) could delay the Budget Day by a week”.
According to the report, Sinckler explained that the final decision would be made after consultation between the Government and Opposition. Because the Tuesday is a holiday, he said, going ahead with the presentation during the final week of the month could impact on the custom of setting aside three straight days for debate.
“We are pretty much ready but I have to work with the leadership of the House, Minister John Boyce, of course, and the Prime Minister and I believe they will consult with Miss [Santia] Bradshaw, etc. and set the date.”
While there’s always a great risk in trying to anticipate the major contents of a Budget presentation, the minister saved some speculation when he “hinted” that his focus would be on financing for education and the cash-starved Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).
Given his Government’s heartless and ill-considered decision to demand a 20 per cent contribution for tuition fees from Barbadian students at UWI, where the numbers have dropped precipitously, the revelation drew an almost tearful apology from outgoing principal at Cave Hill, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.
Charging that Government’s cuts had set the campus back 20 years and were an assault on working class women, Sir Hilary added: “I apologise. We have done our mightiest and our best. There is no more painful experience within an academy of learning than to be unable to see students through.”
Sinckler promised to get enrolment back up to the near 9 000, so maybe we will see some innovation and a novel approach to a funding model for those institutions as well as the agencies involved with the environment.
What’s almost certain is that it can’t be done through increased or new taxes. Bajans are all taxed out.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]