Missed Opportunities in 2021
Last Friday the government announced that the presentation and debate on the 2022 Budget was postponed by one week, to take place beginning on January 10 instead of January 3 as previously announced.
The official reason given is an indication of the times in which we now live, relating to possible COVID-19 exposure by a member of the House and the need for quarantine. It is a sobering reminder that this pandemic affects us all in many ways, even disrupting the business of the nation at the highest level.
The postponement must have been welcome news for Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves who admitted that his presentation, at the time clocking well over four hours, was too long and needed trimming. One can only hope that the editing achieves that goal because it is common knowledge that Budget presentations have become so long that some listener’ interest is lost in the process.
In addition, the official presentation often usurps the scope of individual Ministers of government to explain and take full responsibility for the activities and programmes under their portfolios.
The Leader of the Opposition also weighed in on the postponement implying that Government may well be using the delay to find funding for programmes in its ambitious Budget. What is of great significance where Budget 2022 is concerned is the realization that this may well be the most crucial and difficult one in our history so far. The economic and social ravages brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic with all its global ramifications, were compounded last year by the volcanic eruption of La Soufriere.
Clearly, and realistically, this must have significant bearing on government programming and finances, including the capacity to raise funds by taxation in a weakened economy.
Of course, one can expect some politicking on the matter as both sides try to make political capital out of the situation. But what is at stake is far more important than the immediate political fortunes of any party. The wellbeing, future and prospects for development are all at stake here.
In that context, it is a pity that our country has not been able to take advantage of the opportunities provided by our common misfortunes these past two years to try and arrive at some modicum of understanding on our way forward. Such have been the effects on our economy and on social life that it is amazing that we have not tried hard enough to initiate national dialogue to arrive at some common understanding of the nature of our situation as a basis for at least minimum agreements on the way forward.
We speak here not only of Government and Opposition but the significant sectors and economic and social organizations. Faced with our challenges, we continued to be divided, not just for political reasons but also because of a failure to arrive at a basic conclusion on the nature and scope of the crisis facing us. It is only natural then that there is no consensus on the way forward.
We may not always agree on the solutions to the challenges we face but since they affect us all, we must at least make efforts to develop an appreciation of our circumstances. Regrettably, that opportunity was lost during our most difficult moments of 2021.