The vote’s not the point
“Whereas under the Constitution of Barbados the Minister of Finance is charged with the responsibility for causing the preparation of annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the public service; and whereas the said minister is also responsible for the development of policies and programmes which would enhance the fiscal stability, economic growth and the general well-being of the national economy; . . . and whereas on August 13, 2013, the Minister of Finance acknowledged and admitted a sharp decline in the foreign reserves held by the Central Bank of approximately $300 million in three months;
“And whereas the said minister openly confessed that “it would be reasonable to decide that much of the decline would be attributed to a decline in the level of overall confidence in our economy by foreign and domestic investors alike”; and whereas such loss of confidence is directly attributed to the fiscal and economic policies pursued by the said minister and the Government of Barbados in defiance of the warnings and recommendations of several persons and organizations, locally regionally and internationally;
“And whereas the said minister on August 13, 2013, announced reductions in expenditure totalling $50 million in respect of temporary, officers substitutes and acting public officers together with further large arbitrary reductions in transfers to statutory boards and government-owned corporations; and whereas such reductions were announced without prior study or evaluation and were accordingly announced without due care; . . . and whereas the Minister of Finance floated a new bond issue of US$250 million on the international capital market to assist in financing the deficit 2013/2014 together with a further issue of US$250 million to repurchase existing bonds at a higher rate of interest than that applicable upon redemption;
“And whereas the said minister made a Ministerial Statement to the House of Assembly on October 15, 2013, concerning the withdrawal of the bond issues
but did not inform the House that the bond issues were undersubscribed at the original closing date, [namely] September 30, 2013, and on the extended closing date of October 1, 2013, be it resolved that this House condemn the Honourable Minister of Finance for his incompetence in devising and implementing Budgetary Proposals announced on August 13,
2013, and for his failure to explain, correct or take appropriate legislative action to clarify the purported incidence of the taxes imposed and to provide the requisite legal authority for the relevant entities to collect the said taxes;
“Be it further resolved that this Honourable House condemn the Honourable Minister of Finance for his mismanagement of the Barbados economy and the fiscal affairs of the Barbados Government;
and be it further resolved that this Honourable House has no confidence in the Honourable Minister of Finance and member for the constituency of St Michael North-West;
“And be it finally resolved that this Honourable House call on the Honourable Prime Minister immediately to relieve the Honourable Member for St Michael North-West of his portfolio as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs.”
I’m fairly sure the Opposition will forgive us for reproducing the above text here. I considered it necessary since no one bothers to tell the public what is actually being argued before the speeches (some on point, others somewhere off the deep end) begin. Basically, the Opposition wanted the Prime Minister to “fire” the Minister of Finance on the basis that he had mismanaged the economy and in the process managed to ignore the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, Cap. 85 (by which he is bound) during the last Budget. It was always doomed to
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
fail, since a majority of one is, according to our Constitution, still a majority. Had the vote been lost by the Government, constitutional law and practice would have dictated that the minister resign, or the Prime Minister resign him. Votes of no confidence are an important tool in Westminster-style parliaments, which are based on majority support and are even more lethal where the government has a slim majority, or there is inter-party strife.
It has been pointed out by writers such as R. Brazier in his Constitutional Practice (Second Edition 1994) that in circumstances such as those which played out in our own Parliament on Tuesday “[t]he real significance of the general requirement that a government retain the confidence of the House of Commons is not in the rare loss of a vote of confidence . . . but rather that it obliges every government to defend itself, explain its policies, and justify its actions, to its own backbenchers, to the opposition parties, and through them to the
country as a whole.”
If you think that the language used in our Opposition’s motion of October 22, 2013, was inflammatory, compare that with one from the British opposition on October 28, 1981, which stated “[t]hat this House has no confidence in the economic policies of Her Majesty’s Government which have pushed the registered total of unemployed people to shameful levels, have dealt a series of most damaging blows to British industry, and offer no hope of recovery; and calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to present to Parliament before the end of the year a range of fresh measures designed to reverse the present disastrous trends”.
They were defeated 210 to 312; but I agree with Brazier that the vote wasn’t t he point.