Next Wednesday’s debate of the Estimates of income and expenditure for 2022 is expected to be impacted by tributes to former prime minister Sir James Mitchell, who died on Nov. 23, at the age of 90.
The debate of the 2022 Budget, the following week, is also expected to be similarly impacted by the funeral of the former leader, according to a statement by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
Speaking on the state-owned NBC Radio, on Wednesday, Gonsalves said that the Estimates Debate is scheduled for next Wednesday, Dec. 8, and the Budget for Dec. 13.
“We have some time issues which we have to manage carefully. And I have talked to the speaker about this.”
He said that the Estimates debate usually takes place on one day, with only the “big sending ministers” speaking, while all opposition lawmakers usually take part.
Gonsalves added that all MPs usually speak during the debate of the Budget.
He said he expects that Parliament would spend some time, on Wednesday, paying tribute to Sir James — who was prime minister from 1984 to 2000 — as it would be the first meeting of the national assembly since his death.
“But we have the business to do and I’m hopeful that we can agree with the speaker that not everybody has to speak because, otherwise, we are not gonna get any work done on the Estimates on that day,” the prime minister said.
“But we can pay proper tribute if we agree a certain number of speakers on each side maximum, designated, whether it is two or three on each side.”
The prime minister said that when John Horne, a former minister in Sir James’ government, died — in April 2019 — “everybody in the opposition spoke; everybody wanted to speak and it’s just they wanted to put their name on record but everybody said basically the same thing.
“I mean, we have to look at the effectiveness of that, really, in terms of the use of parliamentary time, while paying, of course, due tribute to Sir James, who made a very important contribution to the economic, social and political life of this country.
“I mean, you can’t be in Parliament for as long as he was in Parliament and be prime minister for 16 years and we don’t pay proper tribute to you. Because it was a long innings and a productive innings,” Gonsalves said of Sir James, who holds the record as the nation’s longest surviving parliamentary representative: 33 years.
He noted that the Budget debate is usually concluded in one week, but said that this year’s debate may not end on Dec. 17 .
“I am advised by the cabinet secretary, after consultations her team has had with Sir James’ immediate family, that the family would wish to have Sir James lie in state, lie in Parliament on Friday [Dec. 17], which means we can’t have any debate on Friday.”
He said that this also means that the Parliament would not be able to go late on Thursday, Dec. 16, so as to allow time to prepare the assembly hall for Sir James’ body to lie in state.
The prime minister said this means that the debate is likely to conclude on the night of Monday, Dec. 20 or early on Tuesday, Dec. 21.
Gonsalves said he had never liked to have a Budget debate going into Christmas week, adding that a “far fetched” alternative is to have the Estimates debate in December and then the Budget debate in January.
“I am giving an insight into the kinds of calculations, when things happen, you have to make all the necessary adjustments … because we have to pay appropriate tribute to Sir James, that’s very important, without affecting too much the work of the living; because he was also a practical man and he would want to have the work of the living go on,” Gonsalves said.
“As I recall it, he had cut it fine with Milton Cato’s funeral because he, Sir James, he was away on a — he was doing work overseas and he couldn’t get the plane back in time. So he wasn’t actually at the funeral service.
“I don’t think it was any disrespect but he was doing the work of the living — that’s as I recall it. But he would have understood and appreciated all of that but we have to pay respect as we paid to Milton Cato and as we have paid to other persons who have served us well.
“It is part of our civilisation, the manner in which we celebrate the lives of those who have gone, and particularly so those of our sons and daughters who had made important contributions. What we do, this is not for the dead. It’s for the living. It’s part of our civilisation.”
Gonsalves said he also has a decision to make as on Dec. 14, there is an important ALBA summit in Cuba.
He said that when the date was set, he was not aware that an in-person ALBA heads of state and government summit would be held this year.
“Of course, I don’t have to be there when [Minister of Finance] Camillo [Gonsalves] presents his speech because I will know it, I will have read it in advance.
“He would have given me an advance copy, a draft, and I will have made comments in the usual way and for different things to be incorporated or amended, as the case may be.”
The prime minister said he could possibly leave the night of Monday Dec. 13 to attend the summit and return the following day or the Wednesday night.
“… and any debate I miss, it would be taped and I could listen to it so that I would pay the respect to all those who have spoken by hearing their contribution so that when I make my contribution, if I need to, I can make reference to things which they said or did not say.
“But I am not so sure about that. I will discuss that today with Cabinet and to seek guidance from my colleagues because it is an important summit, for several reasons.”