Beware of the cliff
Barbados is in danger of falling off its own fiscal cliff in the aftermath of the upcoming general elections.
Leader of the Barbados Labour Party Owen Arthur warned last night that resulting from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s belated calling of the poll, whoever formed the next government would be in a race against the clock to lay, debate, and approve the Estimates ahead of the April 1 start of the financial year.
He raised the possibility of “a constitutional crisis” while speaking at a BLP public meeting at the Harts Gap and Dayrells Road in support of Christ Church West candidate Dr. Maria Agard.
“The law requires that by the first of April the amount that Government intends to spend, called the Estimates of Expenditure, must be taken to Parliament, laid in Parliament for a week and then debated by the House of Assembly and after it has been debated by the House of Assembly must go to the Senate, be debated and all that must be done before the end of March,” the St. Peter candidate said.
“The Estimates that will authorise expenditure beginning the first of April this year have not yet been taken to Parliament and if they are not taken to Parliament in good time things will happen. The Government will not be able to pay its temporary staff, the Government will not be able to pay its bills because you can’t spend in Barbados unless Parliament has approved it.
“So that you will notice that no other Prime Minister has ever sought to call an election so close to March and as a Prime Minister I felt that the latest you could possibly call an election was mid January to give the public officers at least a whole month to finish the Estimates so that the Estimates could go to the House of Assembly the first week in March, stay on the order paper for a week, then be debated by the House of Assembly, then go to the Senate so that you could never have a situation where people couldn’t get pay in this country because we did not follow the constitution.”
Arthur said since Stuart had announced a February 21 election date it now meant there would be great difficulty in installing a new government, dealing with related issues and having the Estimates approved.
“A Prime Minister will be put in place on the 22 of February and then the Prime Minister has to appoint a Cabinet, that (will) take a number of days [and] that can take you down to the end of February. Once that Cabinet has been announced it has to be appointed and Cabinet members have to be given their instruments of appointment, and that will take place perhaps in early March,” he noted.
“And then when the Cabinet has been put in place the Cabinet then has to convene Parliament and Parliament has to be summoned in order for there to be a Speaker and other officers of Parliament for Parliament to function.
“And that is going to take some time because there has to be a Throne Speech. So that sometime in March, Parliament may meet for the first time … and then sometimes after if the Estimates are ready they would have to be brought to Parliament, stay on the order paper for a week then be debated by the House of Assembly and then go to the Senate,” he added.
Saying managing all of this was going to be “tight”, Arthur also said that “if the next Cabinet has ministries that don’t now exist all of the work that has been done to prepare Estimates based upon the ministries that now exist will not matter because Parliament cannot vote money for ministries that don’t exist”.
“And if the next Cabinet has new ministries then unless you have Estimates that make provision for them those new ministries cannot function,” he said.
“So that if a Cabinet is appointed in late February or early March that has different portfolios than the one that is now coming to an end, you virtually have to start preparing the Estimates from scratch and that is the constitutional predicament that Freundel Stuart and Chris Sicnkler have put this country in.
It takes at least six months to prepare Estimates properly, but [we] may have to contemplate doing them in six days.” (SC)