The Budget Consultations
THE GOVERNMENT HAS completed its round of pre-budget consultations and all is now set for the parliamentary process – presentation and debate on the 2019 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure and the formal presentation of the Budget for debate and approval.
The pre-consultation process, with various interest groups, is itself a welcome introduction by the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration after it was first voted into office in 2001. It was a progressive step signalling a desire for inclusion in providing for input from these groups – trade unions, farmers and fisherfolk, the business community and the social sector in the framing of the Budget. The process of inclusion seemed to mark a departure from the past and to augur well for governance in the country as a whole.
Given such a positive start, one would have expected the process of consultation and people’s participation in the framing of government policy to deepen over the years
and to become more meaningful with each passing year. This expectation was further strengthened not only by official pronouncements, but also by the establishment of mechanisms such as the National Economic and Social Development Council for regular exchange and consultation between Government and the non-governmental sector.
Unfortunately, it has not quite evolved that way. For one reason or another, the consultative mechanisms did not work as well as envisaged, and the relations between government and some elements of the social sector, the public sector unions in particular, began to sour. This has led some to question the true value of the consultative process and even its validity.
The pre-Budget consultations themselves have come under scrutiny. Over the years it appears that less and less time has been earmarked for meaningful input into the process by the social partners. It would appear to observers that by the time these consultations are held, the budgetary figures are pretty much well established by the state machinery and that, save for some tinkering
on the fringes, there is precious little time or space for fundamental changes, should that be the desire or proposition of the social actors. One can therefore ask, is this just for optics?
We are all for the consultative process and for the involvement of the social actors in the framing of government policy. However, we do believe that the opportunity to make this involvement meaningful is being missed and that government needs to reflect on the process and timing. Allowing more time for the consultations, listening to the views of the organisations, even when they appear not to be in conformity with those of the government, and ensuring the necessary support for the consultative process, are all necessary measures if we truly wish to deepen our democracy.
It also can produce other benefits such as reducing areas of confrontation and conflict. It may be too late for the 2019 Budgetary exercise, but that is only one part of a wider exercise. Let us not allow the opportunities to further go down the drain.