EDITORIAL - Lessons from the Budget debate
Recent statements emanating from two senior members of Parliament have brought to light, even if indirectly, some aspects of the so-called Budget debate that warrant further discussion in the public interest.
First, the Honourable Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mr Donville Inniss, sought to clarify his ostensible opposition to some of the proposals when he had stated during the debate that he could not give one hundred per cent support to the measures.
Mr Inniss has now made it clear that his dissent was not at all personal against his ministerial colleague, the Honourable Minister of Finance, but, rather, an indirect panning of the entire budgetary process, which, in his view, is “flawed”, and centred too much on the Minister of Finance and his team as opposed to being a Cabinet decision.
This revelation has naturally led some commentators to query why the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, Ms Mia Mottley, did not call for a division at the conclusion of the debate, thereby forcing Mr Inniss and another ministerial dissentient, Mr Estwick to show their individual “hands”, as it were and to side with the Opposition.
In response, Ms Mottley has argued that such a call would have been pointless given that she did not have the numbers to defeat the proposal.
With all due respect, it is not to our certain knowledge that the Budget is a measure that can be rejected by the House, as may another ordinary money bill. On the contrary, we consider that the Budget speech is better viewed as a Ministerial statement and that what the members of the House debate on is the motion to congratulate the Minister on the measures he has announced.
So that the negative vote of the majority of MPs present and voting disaffirms the motion of congratulation and not the measures themselves that have already become law. The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, Cap 85 of the Laws of Barbados, makes this clear. It provides in section 3 (1), marginally noted, “Taxes to be effective from date specified by Minister in budgetary proposals”:
Subject to this Act, where
(a) the imposition of a tax; or
(b) an increase in the rate of an existing tax, is contained in any budgetary proposals, then from the date specified by the Minister in such budgetary proposals (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the specified date)
(i) the imposition of such tax shall be as effective as if an enactment had been made or passed imposing such tax and the tax shall be payable as from the specified date;
(ii) the increase in the rate of the existing tax shall be effective from the specified date and the existing tax shall be payable at the increase rate as from that date.
Thus, unlike in the United Kingdom parliament where a subsequent Finance Bill must be brought to complement the budgetary proposals and may thus be defeated by the House of Commons, the Barbados scenario differs substantially.
We are equally concerned at the revelation that the budgetary measures are not a collective Cabinet decision. After all, section 64 of the Constitution requires that the Cabinet “shall be the principal instrument of policy and shall be charged with the general direction and control of the government of Barbados and shall be collectively responsible therefor to Parliament”. There is nothing therefore to hinder the members of Cabinet being fully briefed on the Budget before its presentation so that they might add to its final proposals rather than being called upon to vote “in the dark”, and instinctively to congratulate the Minister of Finance simply because he or she happens to be a Cabinet colleague.