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Opposition Leader Godwin Friday . (Facebook Live file photo)
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday . (Facebook Live file photo)
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Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday is encouraging the Vincentian public to follow the budget debate, which has been postponed to next Monday. 

“… the people of the country must listen carefully to what the Minister of Finance presents,” Friday told listeners to his New Times Programme on NICE Radio on Monday.

“Whether you like to hear his voice or not, the point is the budget is an extremely important process. The document that is prepared there is supposed to set the course for the rest of the year. 

“It is supposed to give hope to people, it’s supposed to give a plan as to how we are going to proceed throughout the course of this year. And to indicate how this is going to improve lives — the lives of our people here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The budget debate was initially scheduled for the week of Dec. 13-17, 2021, but was postponed because of the state funeral of former prime minister, Sir James Mitchell.

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Then, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves was scheduled to present the budget this past Monday, Jan. 3, but the debate was postponed to next Monday, Jan. 10.

The opposition leader said that House Speaker Rochelle Forde had contacted me saying that she had been exposed  to someone who had tested positive for COVID. 

“And the chief medical officer had advised for her not to be present in the Parliament during that week,” Friday said.

On Dec. 14, Parliament approved Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the 2022 fiscal year, amounting to EC$1,329,340,860.

This is a 9.6% increase over the approved budget for 2021, which did not include the volcano eruption-related appropriations of EC$117.9 million that was passed later in the year.

The budget for 2022 is made up of recurrent expenditure, inclusive of amortisation and sinking fund contributions  of EC$931,876,660 and capital expenditure of ECEC$397,463,860, Gonsalves told lawmakers. 

Friday said that opposition lawmakers will be responding to the fiscal package, adding that they also debated the estimates in December. 

It is left to be seen how the debate is going to be affected by the protocols that dictate that MPs who have not declared their COVID-19 vaccination status must speak from behind a booth at one end of the assembly chamber.

Further, MPs who have not declared their vaccination status must present a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the assembly chamber and must  wear two masks even while speaking from behind the booth.

At the same time, vaccinated MPs are not required to present a negative COVID-19 test result and can remove their mask and speak from their seats.

Some opposition lawmakers have not declared their status and have refused to speak from behind the booth and have, thereby, not contributed to the debates in the national assembly.

Friday noted that the Estimates is, essentially, the framework of the money that the government intends to raise and spend. 

It also outlines the  programmes on which the government intends to spend the money.

“We pointed out many of the serious, very serious flaws with this process. I mean, you look at the document, and there is a shortfall of $265 million, that they have no idea where that’s going to come from yet,” he said, referring to the Other Receipts segment of the fiscal package. 

In the document itself, they are projecting that they will spend various amounts of money on various programmes, which are going to be affected by that shortfall of $265 million. They have that to deal with and they don’t deal with it. that’s the problem,” the opposition leader said.

“I just wanted people to understand, our people to understand that the debate as it comes up is extremely important. They should be having their own searching questions to ask of the government as to what … sort of relief is there going to be for people who have struggled so hard over the past year.

“What sort of reliefs are there going to be for people who have been directly affected by COVID? For the hotel industry? The guest houses? What sort of relief is there going to be for those persons? Is the government going to be so brazen, to come and tax people, again, to say they’re going to raise money out of an overtaxed population already and just basically to meet government’s needs, but not essentially focusing on the needs of the people,” the opposition leader said.