ST. VINCENT (Jan. 17):- Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace believes that the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves government should postpone the debates of the Estimates of Expenditure and the National Budget to give legislators more time to study and respond to the documents.
Eustace said on Monday, Jan. 17, that he was yet to receive the Estimates, to be debated in Parliament on Thursday, Jan. 20, and said the situation was “unacceptable”.
The former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance said the Clerk of the House of Assembly told him on Monday that the Estimates were still being printed by the government printers.
“I don’t know what the holdup is,” Eustace said, noting that the Finance Committee of the Parliament is scheduled to discuss the Estimates on Wednesday.
“I find the present situation totally unacceptable. There are not many documents that go before the Parliament of this country which are more important than the Estimates of Expenditure, which also show the revenue position of the government,” he said.
Eustace was “worried” that three days ahead of the debates he had not received the estimates, saying they were given to him the Sunday before the debates last year.
“If we are to make a meaningful contribution in the opposition to the debate of the Estimates, then we have to have them a few days ahead so we can go through them pretty thoroughly. And, if today passes again and we still don’t have them, to deal with it effectively becomes a very difficult process,” Eustace said during his party’s New Times programme on Nice Radio.
He noted that there are several new members of Parliament on both the government and opposition benches who will speak on the Estimates and Budget for the first time and are expected to do so intelligently.
“I appreciate there are difficulties but certainly, there must be a limit. There must be some meaningful limit beyond which if you can’t get it ready, then you must postpone the debate on the Estimates to give people at least a couple of days to deal with the Estimates and the Budget for that matter,” he said.
Eustace noted that the general elections last year and its outcome affected the preparation of the documents especially since there were new ministries created and said the government should postpone the budget “to ensure meaningful debate”.
“I don’t see how this is going to take place when we don’t have them up to now,” he further said, adding that while a week is a reasonable period of time to peruse the Estimates, he can “live with three days”.
“But when it comes down to a day or two, it is a horse of a different colour,” he said, adding that opposition legislators have to also make alternative proposals to the government’s.
“We have to be able to comment on it in a matter which explains to the public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines our position on these matters and any alternatives we might wish to propose on this matter,” he said.
“I believe that we are being pressured unnecessarily. And the reason why I am saying this is that under the Finance and Administration Act … there can be a provisional general warrant issued under the hand of the Prime Minister to carry you for the first four months of the financial year and if you bring the Estimates somewhere within that time period, it would then be the lesser time,” Eustace said.
“In the interest of the general public, who would want to hear what both sides have to say on the Estimates and the Budget … consideration [should] now be given to changing the date for the presentation of the Estimates and changing the date for the Budget – even if to put it back by one week,” Eustace further said.
“Because it really has come to a stage now where we do not have sufficient time to debate the estimates,” he added, saying “…otherwise the exercise will be almost meaningless”.
“…a week will not kill anyone,” Eustace said.
The Office of the Prime Minister said Monday morning that Gonsalves will give insights into the budget during a press conference Monday afternoon.