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Social budgeting

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Let us look into this question that is disturbing me; this is it: to whom does the “budget debate” belong? Every year, we have this show. The Ministry of Finance pulls together a loose project document for the year and the minister presents this budget in the House of Assembly.{{more}}

The governing members of parliament defend it and vote for it; the opposing members of parliament attack it with touches of drama, they vote against it and it is passed by the assembly. The show fades out gradually, the document goes out of sight behind ministerial barricades and the political party festival or “test match” is over. The question is still lingering in the air: whose budget debate was that? What kind of nation/ society can we develop if we use this annual debate as our management tool? Has SVG become a public speaking lotto, a courtroom where the judge, jury and defending advocates are one and the same group?

Is it not more reasonable to approach our national project management through a process of consultation among diverse interests determined to employ negotiation, persuasion and agreement to disagree on principled grounds; so that all can share in producing the consent that moves the nation ever onwards? Is our parliament – that slaughterhouse of principled positions – the forum for crafting a project that belongs to the whole nation? How do we move away from a partisan budget, to a People’s budget or a societal budget. Certainly not by the parliamentary budget debate that we now are having.

A PEOPLE’S BUDGET PILOT

In 1981, 1982, the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) in Grenada had no parliament to debate their budget. The government used a consultation process. This is what they reported in 1982.

“The most fundamental and far-reaching of these National consultations has been the 1981 Budget Plan process in which, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, the people were directly involved in the preparation of the Budget Plan of their country.

Over 80 per cent of the adult population actively participated in the formulation of the national budget through the National Conference of the Economy, zonal and parish councils and general meetings and branch meetings of the trade union movement….”

I myself attended one of the budget planning sessions in Grenada. There were about 500 persons, each with a copy of the budget draft and summary of the National Economic Plan. We received a presentation from Planning Minister Bernard Coard and then the discussion took place in interest groups and then in plenary. It was close to a revolutionary reversal of the normal planning process that governments use. It is worth building on. Once or twice, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Gonsalves did take a small team of officials into selected zones of our country to receive input from citizens to be considered for the budget. At present, though, group consultations occur on a smaller scale, generally in Cabinet room – a pitiful concession. There were also occasions when the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CIC) took the initiative and prepared and presented its own budget concerns to the Minister of Finance.

A SOCIETAL BUDGET

In preparing the state budget, the Minister of Finance looks over his shoulders ever so often to see what games the World Bank, the IMF, and other “rating” agencies that give grades to our economy are playing. These outside forces can dictate the measure of our state budget more than we the citizens and workers can. That is why we need to consider a “society based budget”, as well as, or rather than a “state based budget” and development plan. There are many needs and resources that the state does not touch. For example, let us say that our 20,000 acres of agricultural land is worth $500 million even without crop cover, the minister of finance and the ministry of agriculture do not have the authority or the interest or the capacity to design and manage that resource for our society’s development. What we need is a societal budget and process with a richer, broader and differentiated scope. And what about managing our untapped “social capital”; those community virtues and bondings that can bring about change even where finance capital is scarce? No budget debate in the House of Assembly can mobilize and harness community bonding and virtue. It destroys it. “Our” budget debate does not belong to us as citizens who want progress in SVG. Check it out.

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