The 2016 Budget will include five new initiatives related and connected to several measures of reorganisation, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Ralph Gonsalves says.
The Budget, which will be tabled on Feb. 22, Parliament having paved the way on Friday with the approval — in the absence of opposition lawmakers – of Estimates of Income and Expenditure for 2016 amounting to EC$912,897,311.
This year’s Budget will be 6 per cent or EC$58.5 million less than 2015.
The reduction is accounted for on the Capital side of the Budget, which is about 33 per cent less than the planned capital programme in 2015, Gonsalves said.
“Mr. Speaker, clearly, if some programmes are winding down, like, for instance, the Argyle International Airport, where much less money is budgeted this year than last year, you’d expect that the capital side would be less –and there are other things,” he said.
The long-delayed airport, which has missed completion deadlines annually since 2011, is scheduled to be completed by Easter.
Gonsalves said there is a modest increase on the Recurrent side of the Estimates, but a decrease on the Capital side.
Recurrent Expenditure, including Amortisation and Sinking Fund Contributions, is EC$715,228,341.
Capital expenditure is EC$197,668,970.
The Budget is financed by Recurrent Revenue of 564,627,600 and Capital Receipts of EC$348,269,711.
The first new initiative is the introduction of Ministry of Economic Planning, Sustainable Development, Industry, Information and Labour.
The new ministry — headed by MP for East St George, Camillo Gonsalves — has a total budget of EC$30.38 million.
“This ministry is expected to pay a pivotal role in the economic development thrust of the government in the upcoming year and beyond,” the Prime Minister said.
Other ministerial portfolio changes are the addition of National Reconciliation and Ecclesiastical Affairs have been added to the Ministry of Education.
The Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit, which was in the Office of the Prime Minister, has been moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Commerce and Regional Integration.
The Public Sector Reform Unit, which was elsewhere, now falls under the responsibility of the Office of the Prime Minister, Gonsalves said.
He told lawmakers and the nation that the Ministries of Finance, Agriculture, Education, National Mobilisation and Health reflect import changes
“These five ministries have been selected as pilots in the on-going strategic budget reform initiative currently being implemented by the Ministry of Finance.”
Gonsalves said the objectives of the reform includes strengthening further the linkages between the government’s strategic priorities and the budget and to improve performance management in sharpening the focus of the measurement and delivery of the results.
“So, we have to link better government’s strategic priorities, which have been laid out, like, for instance, in our development plan; like, for instance, which were laid out in the ULP manifesto, and which are incorporated into policy objectives in the government — strategic policies, to link those with the budget. Because, the policies can be out there, but they have to be linked with the budget to be given life and meaning,” Gonsalves said.
“And, clearly, having done that. We have to make sure that we perform, and the reforms are also, in part, connected to improving performance results, by sharpening the focus of the measurement and delivery of the results, which are among the things which we promised the electorate for this fourth term.”
Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) was returned to office in December by a carbon copy of the 2010 election results – winning eight of the 15 seats, while the remaining seven went to the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The NDP is claiming that the ULP stole the elections and has gone to court over the matter.
Opposition MPs, however, stayed away from Parliament on Friday in protest of the results.
Another new initiatives, Gonsalves told Parliament, is that the government is also introducing a new charter of account.
“The new coding structure for the classification of revenue and expenditure has been adapted from the IMF government’s statistics manual of 2016.”
The final new initiative is a change in the way that the budget for contributions to regional and international organisations is allocated.
Gonsalves said that for many years, the funds budgeted for contributions to these organisations, for the most part, were allocated centrally in the Ministry of Finance.
However, in the 2016 Estimates, these funds have been allocated to the respective miniseries under whose responsibility each organisation falls.
“This small change harmonises the budgetary treatment of contributions to regional and international organisations with that of local organisations and effectively devolves responsibility and administrative control where it should be, at the ministry level.
“So that, for instance, if there is a clerical error in respect of a short payment of $2,000 to the United Nations for our contribution, you are not chasing around between different places to see where this error arose and why this was not corrected and dealt with in an expeditious manner, so that the accounting officer would have direct responsibility — and the accounting officer being the permanent secretary,” Gonsalves said.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines recently had its rights to vote in the United Nations suspended for lack of payment of its annual contributions.
The nation’s ambassador to the United Nations, I. Rhonda King, blamed the development on a clerical error.
SVG was reported to be in arrears of US$2,155 and King said that the nation had paid US$39,313, instead of the US$41,557.00 owed to the U.N.
“I am unclear about how the error came about, but I do know it was an error,” King told the media.