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Budget lacks X factor


Fri Feb 06, 2015

Editor: The 2015 national budget exercise would be remembered for its lack of thematic coherence, and significantly little growth promoting policies, programmes and projects. The annual affair, which was initially postponed following the tragic incident at Fancy last month, served up a dish of warmed over rhetoric from previous budget cycles that will do precious little in helping average Vincentians and local businesses to buffer the continued depressed economic reality.{{more}}

The coverage in the media and the sparse debate, even on social networks — the political battleground – suggest that Prime Minister Dr the Hon Ralph Gonsalves, in his presentation, failed to convey a synthetic road map over the year that sets out a clear growth path, even in the context of the recently published National Economic and Social Development Plan.

If we are to take this exercise seriously, officers in the different ministries need to prepare better data and statistics that feed into the overall plan. As Opposition Leader, Hon Arnhim Eustace laboured to show in several cases, from the large variance or disparity between the projected numbers from the previous budget and the actual numbers, it is quite evident that some persons are playing Russian roulette at the expense of the public. The Opposition party, especially its leader, has often lamented that year after year, the budget is padded, creating an illusory road map. What is clear is that beneath the surface, despite the challenges of small nations like ours to prepare precise statistics, we must give ourselves a chance by not circumventing the process.

It is imperative that we do not employ wishful thinking or creative accounting techniques.

In admitting the fiscal challenges confronting the Government, including substantial arrears with regional and international organizations, the Argyle airport project remains the cornerstone of the administration’s economic and political pathway. At roughly 75 per cent of the current total national budget at the tune of EC$729 million, the airport must live up to its expectations if the country is going to approach the next five years optimistically. Already, there is evidence that the State apparatus is ill-equipped and unprepared for leveraging any success that may derive from the project. Remarks by CEO of the Tourism Authority Glen Beache that were raised in Parliament shatter confidence that all is well with the project in the grand design of things.

As expounded in a previous article, it is time enough budget addresses be job-focused, by creating the macro-economic environment to support “jobs that are of a sufficiency of quality and permanency where they [public] can participate in economic activities throughout the year. Addresses must be focussed on income generating projects rather than populist expenditures.” It has been a long time that Government and Opposition have both argued a strategic blueprint for creating jobs in the economy and dually ensuring there is not a mismatch between what is required in the job market and the programmes being offered through the expanded education initiatives.

There is also little effort to stoke private sector expansion or any real sectoral development. This is not surprising, as almost every major constituent has and always tended to be silent during the debate. Civil society is virtually too drunkened by its own malaise to offer any critical analysis to help shape public policy and lobby for more industry sensitive benefits. Aside from the Government and Opposition contribution in Parliament, there is no academic, trade union, member group or organization who will even pen an article breaking down the budget for their membership or the average Joe Public. In other words, the Chamber of Commerce, the Teachers, Police and Public Service Unions, the National Youth Council, the Sports associations and cultural organizations all act as if they don’t care if the budget falls on a Sunday or Monday. Can you imagine this?

To ponder further, aside from Gonsalves and Arnhim, who have grabbed the headlines, SVG seemingly does not possess an economist, an accountant, an agriculturalist, a political scientist, retired or currently employed, who is willing to offer an analysis for national discourse, debate and edification. None of our young and bright graduates are accounted for. To what end do we see our investment in education if the ‘educated class’ retreat to the periphery of society?

This is the stark difference between SVG and our neighbours and until the situation is arrested, our development will remain dependent on external stimuli. In the end, the Prime Minister is able to regurgitate old budget addresses and worn out ideas year after year, because no one is paying attention. After all:

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,

Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;

Some like it hot, some like it cold,

Some like it in the pot, nine days old.

Adaiah Providence-Culzac

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