COLUMN-To budget or not?

todays womanI guess the bad thing about having a columnist for a friend is that any day you may look into the paper and see a part of your life in full blast for the world to read. Sigh! Sorry, friend, but it is the best analogy for this week’s topic.

A very dear friend of mine gets married later this month. Anybody involved in that process knows it’s a culmination of about a steady year of planning. I remember when they first started looking for venues and so. Then layout. Clothes. The final journey was food.

One bill that came back was over $6,000. We sat on the phone trying to figure out how after staying clear of the traditional all-out feast of rice and macaroni pie and so on, could we end up with $6,000 for fishcakes and samosas.

I said: “Friend, I think we may have approached this the wrong way. Instead of giving items and leaving an open price tag, let us give items and an upward limit on the budget.”

That seemed to do the trick. The life lesson coming out of this experience was a budget helps keep things in perspective. It is a vital planning tool. If we could not complete a wedding plan without a budget as a core element in the planning, how are we running a country in the midst of one of the most prolonged economic downturns without a budget?

The answer to this cannot be the usual retort of “Oh?”!

But in years gone by there have been missed budgets too. I have heard some people say that the Budget is not the main highlight; but the Estimates. Until we start to consume our politics differently, we will be given the same steady diet we have been accustomed to. So, let me state what would make sense to a thirty-something Barbadian voter like me.

The Budget should be delivered yearly. I would go as far as to say that it should be held no later than May of any given year. This makes sense if we see the Estimates as an indication of the projected expenditure of Government and the Budget as the explanation of how that expenditure matches the policy of Government and the adjustments to collection of taxation necessary to execute the mandate of Government.

The Budget is also fundamental, as it ensures that we reflect on the shortfalls in revenue, and what needs to be done to recover them. In a season of shortfalls the Budget is even more critical to planning.

If the wedding venue is set, and the clothes have to be “just those”, then there will be fewer fishcakes. It really is that simple.

If we are in an economic crisis, there cannot be an open-ended cheque for anything. If the people of the country have voted for a mandate by electing one Government over the other, and the people demand changes in the mandate by voicing clear public disdain for a project or activity, then there must be change in the policy direction via the Budget, and then in the Estimates of the next year to keep the mandate of Government in line with the wishes of the electorate.

If the people of Barbados believe they cannot afford Constituency Councils, but that they want more money allocated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Budget should be the reflection of this, followed by the adjustment in the Estimates.

If that is the type of process needed to make a wedding happen, why do we believe we can run a whole country differently?

On the Queen Elizabeth Hospital . . . . The weekend after doctors put the hospital on emergency only treatment status there were various violent incidents played out across the island. It has left me wondering what the update on the hospital is now.

Doctors indicated that supplies were so dangerously low that they could only afford to treat emergencies –– and then there seemed to be a weekend of emergencies. When I saw the first baby and first boy born at the hospital on Independence Day, it brought back an immediate thought I had on the day of the Press conference by the doctors. Are women delivering children at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital safe?

I would have felt a whole lot better if there had been a statement by the Minister of Health ensuring mothers using the services of the hospital that they and their newborns were safe. I would have felt better if I got word from the head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department.

Nothing of the sort came; and, based on media snippets about ventilators that did not have elements and a mother still in agony to this day after another recessionary period in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s history, there must be some higher level of anxiety for expectant mother in Barbados.

The unwillingness to engage the public about the status of care with respect to expectant mothers is but one highlight in a deluge of silence on women’s obstetric and gynaecological issues in Barbados. There are few, if not no seminars held on the issues of reproductivity or “female” illnesses which Barbadian women face.

I once pointed out to one of the all-male team of consultants heading up the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department at the lone state-run hospital that I believed having only male consultants in leadership roles in the department was problematic. He explained that the best paediatricians did not always have children; likewise the best ob/gyns were not necessarily female.

I take the point; but it does not quiet my unease over the situation, because I understand the broader politics of the female body and the oppression of the female choice in her sexual/health care.

Today, in the absence of a Budget, with no word of reassurance to Barbadian expectant mothers, and with a still all-male cast of consultants in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, I keep hearing “Put a woman dey in front” in my head.

Does that make me political? And if it does, can any of us afford not to be political at this point in history?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communication at the University of the West Indies. She is a social commentator and community worker.)

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