Parliament, last Thursday, passed a resolution allowing the government to spend EC$10 million more annually on unforeseen expenditure.
With the passage of the resolution, the amount that the government can now spend via special warrants has been raised from EC$25 million to EC$35 million, the first increase in a decade.
The ceiling was raised three months after Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, promised Parliament that there will not be a repeat of the situation in which his government took years — five years in some cases — to bring special warrants to the national assembly for approval.
The special warrants should be brought to Parliament within one year after being issued and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told lawmakers during October’s debate that the delay was “‘not a hanging offence”.
In presenting to Parliament last Thursday the motion for raising the special warrants ceiling, Minister Gonsalves noted that the issue of special warrants has been canvassed “rather frequently of late in this honourable house and extensively”.
He said that the last time that an upper limit was fixed by resolution in Parliament was on May 6, 2010.
MP for Central Kingstown St. Clair Leacock had reminded lawmakers and public servants of “some obligations that we have that were not being met in a timely manner,” Gonsalves said.
“We’ve undertaken it very seriously to meet our obligations, vis-à-vis special warrants and supplementary appropriations.
“But in analysing the content of special warrants over the last few years, and the amount, we’ve noticed that there’s an increasingly large proportion that is reserved for bringing items to account, which are not in the typical sense, the emergencies that are contemplated,” Gonsalves said.
He said that when these spendings are brought to account, “it’s leaving less and less space to bring things to account and to do some of the other things that special warrants were intended to do.”
The finance minister said that given the passage of time, over the last decade, and the fact that we have so much work being funded by developmental agencies, “where we’re doing a lot of bringing to account via special warrant, we thought this was an appropriate time to raise the ceiling somewhat to accommodate the way in which we’re funding and executing projects at the moment.
In his contribution to the debate, Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday noted last October’s debate of the special warrants.
“When we say yes, or the special warrants, the limit is moved from 25 to $35 million. And is passed in this honourable house, that we understand that that is the limit,” he said, noting that some of the special warrants brought to parliament in October exceeded the limit.
“And it’s not just a question of bringing things to account. It’s also because of the sloppiness in the way in which the warrants have been used to deal with things that should have been budgeted at the beginning of the year,” Friday said.
“It’s just things that have been ignored. And then when the proverbial what hit the fan, he decided to do special warrants to pay the bills,” the opposition leader said, adding that it requires proper planning at the beginning of the year so that special warrants are only used for unforeseen expenditure.
Friday said that raising the limit is not the issue, adding that the government does not have to spend the full amount permitted.
“The resolution is the law. And I hope that from the discussions we’ve had, the exposure this matter has been given, the seriousness with which we have taken it on this side of the house, that this sloppy practice doesn’t continue,” Friday said.
In responding to the opposition leader, the finance minister said:
“I assure him with all sincerity and members of that side of the house that we are taking very seriously our legal obligations and under this particular resolution and under the financial administration act, and to abide by both the letter and the spirit of the law and the resolution in hand.”
“So I thank him for his commentary and I assure him that we intend to act within the four corners of this particular resolution.”