Budget debates overdue for change
In my opinion, the annual Budget debates in the House of Assembly are not really debates. I describe them as a series of lectures followed by questions and answers.
For the uninitiated, here are the basic facts:
1, Fifty-six hours are allotted for the “debate”
2, The ministers’ Budget statements are not circulated to Members of the House beforehand
3, The official Opposition gets to choose which ministries are to be debated, and in what order, as it is understood that under the present system with the time constraints, there is no way that all the ministers would be able to present their ministries’ Budget statements
4, Millions of dollars for ministries that are not “debated” are voted on and passed without the Opposition or, more important, the taxpayers really knowing the thinking and the facts regarding the allotted funds
5, Ministers are allotted a number of hours during which they read their entire Budget statements
6, In some cases, because of the length of the statements, the ministers leave little or no time for questions
7, The Opposition’s shadow ministers and other House Members, who are not privy to the statements before they are read in the House, have to prepare questions and concerns “on the fly”, hoping that there would be time to have them addressed by the relevant minister
8, To compound the inefficiency of the system, in many cases valuable senior civil servants spend their time in the House as back-ups for ministers, especially during the question-and-answer period for their ministries.
Here are some of the changes that, in my opinion, are worth considering:
• With today’s technological advances, it would be a simple matter to have the Budget Book circulated to all Members during a specified period before the date of the beginning of the debate
• Ministers should not be required to read their Budget statements in the House
• There should be allotted times for questions and answers with respect to all ministries
CHARLES H. JEFFERS
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