President of the Senate, Claudius Francis and Speaker of the House, Peter Foster held a press conference at the House of Parliament ahead of the commencement of a new sitting of the House to discuss what they call, “the reintroduction of the correct procedure in the House.”
The meeting saw both Presiding Officers reiterating and defending the changes that will take place in this year’s Budget Presentation. According to Foster, after spending a lengthy period researching the operations of Parliament, both he and the President of the Senate found “deficiencies” in the manner of the Budget Debate.
He pointed out that the practices had been going on over the last few years and took the form of something like this:
“First, the Minister for Finance delivers a speech and this is followed at a later date by the debate on that presentation.”
Foster explained that this format does not coincide with the directives laid out in the Constitution of St Lucia and the Standing Orders which are as follows:
“The Minister for the time being responsible for finance shall cause to be prepared and laid before the House before, or not later than thirty days after, the commencement of each financial year estimates of revenues and expenditure of Saint Lucia for that financial year.” – Section 79 sub sections (1) of the Constitution.
Foster further explained: “ . . . this section mandates that the estimates must be laid before the House on or before the 30 April of each year. The Prime Minister has set Wednesday, 25 April 2012, for the presentation thereby rendering that constitutional obligation as being satisfied.”
Foster pointed out that there is a difference between the bill of estimates and the Appropriation bill and not knowing the difference has sparked the anomaly which the Presiding Officers are now trying to rectify.
The Presiding Officers also explained that the financial procedure that has been going on in the House is not consistent with the Standing Orders.
“We are further fortified in our conclusion by Standing Orders 64 and 65 of the House of Assembly under the broad rubric “Financial Procedure. Following the conclusion of that debate, Foster says an Appropriation Bill emerges.
“We are supported in that view by Standing Order 65(1) which reads: “An Appropriation Bill, when presented in accordance with section 79 of the Saint Lucia Constitution Order, 1978, shall be put down for second reading upon a day to be named by the Minister presenting it.”
That reading, according to Foster is what we have come to know as “The Budget Address” is scheduled for Tuesday, 8 May 2012.
Foster then explained that the debate on government policy which was not allowed during the Debate on Estimates can now be done following the address by the Minister for Finance.
According to Foster, in keeping with Standing Order 64 Members will debate the Bill of Estimates which limits them to commenting on the figures—that is set for April 26 and 27and in keeping with Standing Order 65, they debate government policy and this debate is set for May 10 and 11, 2012.
Claudius Francis referred to 1997 and 10 years before as years where the correct procedures were being practiced. These years, he pointed out were under the leadership of the previous administration who he claims are having several issues with the implementation of the correct procedure.
When asked when and by which administration the incorrect procedure was adopted, both Presiding Officers declined to give an explanation stating that they are not obliged to identify origin but rather rectify the anomaly for future Budget presentations in the House.
However, Richard Frederick and Guy Joseph say the adoption came in 1998 under the Kenny Anthony administration when they delivered their first Budget Address since coming into office and went on for 15 years without any objections. They believe that no objections were raised in 1998 and 2001 because they only had an opposition of 16 to 1 and 14 to 3 respectively.
Frederick questioned: “Why are no references made to the years 1998 to 2011. Could it be that these years would show that the Kenny Anthony administration was responsible for adopting the wrong procedure?”
A procedure Claudius Francis says was not illegal in any way but referenced it to taking a shorter route in place of the longer and straighter path.
Both Frederick and Joseph say while they are aware that readopting this procedure is the correct form they still have an issue with the date set for the “Budget Address.”
“The Procedure is simple but obvious attempts have been made at silencing the opposition. The Standing Finance Committee meets after which a report is laid before the House.
“A report is never debated—a debate is sparked off by the introduction of a bill or a motion and every introduction of a motion or a bill comes with an explanation. Clearly, we
have known that explanation when the motion for the Budget is moved as the Budget Address.
“This is what we have grown to know as the budget Address but you will not find the term Budget Address in any piece of Legislation. When that is done, members can now debate the estimates and after the estimates are approved, according to the Constitution under Section 79, only when those estimates are approved then the Appropriation Bill will be introduced only to deal with one issue that is the right to spend the money from the Consolidated Funds which is a piece of Legislation,” said Frederick.
He believes that the current government is seeking to “have a debate, confine it to the estimates, get the approval and then deliver what we know as the Budget Address, i.e. the explanation.”
He went on: “How on earth can you expect me as a Member of Parliament to lend approval to your estimates unless I know where the monies are coming from and for what purposes the monies are being used?”
Guy Joseph also believes that this move is a direct indication that the government is seeking to minimize the power of the opposition. He says this is the first time the Kenny Anthony administration has encountered a strong opposition.
“My biggest concern with this approach is whether it is an attempt by the current government to silence the opposition. I have said that I will not support a “jab un sac” Budget. I will not approve figures without the requisite explanation of what the policy positions are. Because really, if the Budget speech comes after when you have approved the Budget, what sense does it make to sit down and listen to a speech about what was in the Budget that you have already debated.”