Down to the wire
Elections definitely next year, based on forward Estimates
If the annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure are anything to go by, 2018 is definitely the year for elections in Barbados.
While making a deliberate effort to control its spending in 2017/2018, the Freundel Stuart administration looks set to go all out to woo voters next year in terms of its financial provisions as it prepares to come face to face with the constitutional deadline.
For starters, the Electoral & Boundaries Commission (EBC), the main executing agency for any national poll, will be operating on a reduced budget of $5.1 million for fiscal year 2017/2018, down from $8.6 million for fiscal 2016/2017.
And while the EBC’s budget is to be maintained at $5 million next year, there is greater evidence of Government’s political intent in its increased allocations for its various social and political agencies.
Chief among these is the Office of the Prime Minister, whose budget has been reduced from $167 million to $155 million for fiscal 2017/2018, but is due to soar to $210 million for fiscal 2018/2019, in keeping with the need for greater political largess.
Defence and Security are also vital in any given year, but more so at election time. Therefore, it has come as no surprise that the budget, which has generally been maintained around $53 million, is set to be increased by about six million in time for Stuart’s much anticipated announcement. The Office of the Attorney General is also to be allocated $161 million, up from $146 million in what looks to be an election year. This includes an expanded budget for police services of $119 million up from $106 million in the current financial year.
Equally unsurprising is the level of attention paid to living and working conditions of urban households. Already, Government’s vote for the Urban Development Commission is up slightly from $5.5 million in fiscal 2016/2017 to $6 million this year. However, provision is made in the Forward Estimates for 2018/2019 for a whopping $35.4 million for urban renewal, which encompasses many of the so called marginal seats that have known to decide the outcome of Barbados elections.
The Rural Development Commission’s budget will also increase to $10 million, up from $4.4 million, as part of an overall boost to the Ministry of Housing and Lands, whose allocation is set to increase to $138 million in fiscal 2018/2019, up from $111 million.
With Stuart expected to carry the country down to the wire, the spending of the Ministry of Transport and Works has been fixed at $125 million for 2017/2018. However, that figure moves up to $205 million next year, based on Government’s Forward Estimates.
The budget for the Steve Blackett-led Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development is also due to increase to $82 million, up from $79 million in 2017/2018. This includes over $2 million more for the Welfare Department.
Next year, the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Development can also look forward to its biggest budget in five years. A provision of $90 million is being made, up from $80 million in the Revised Estimates for 2016/2017 and the $84 million that has been set aside for 2017/2018. The figure includes $45 million to finance increases to non-contributory pensioners who are due to be added to the roll of the National Insurance Department, while provision has been made for $316 million under the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs for prompt settlement of retiring benefits, up from $297 million for fiscal 2017/2018 and $242 million for 2016/2017.
The first in a series of payments to CLICO and BAICO policyholders and investors are to begin this year, with CLICO policyholders due to receive $25 million and BAICO investors $4.9 million after waiting in vain for the past eight years for relief following the collapse of their Trinidad-based parent company, CL Financial.
The Forward Estimates, which can only be considered a wishlist at this stage in the absence of parliamentary approval, also make provision for an increase in the vote for Health, with the David Thompson Polyclinic to receive $1.98 million this coming year, up from $793,370 in fiscal 2016/2017, with a further increase planned for 2018/2019 to $2.05 million.
In terms of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the vote is set to increase to $70.8 million in the 2018/2019 financial year which begins in April, up from $64.6 million in the current Estimates and $57 million, based on the Revised Estimates for 2016/2017.
Seven million has also been set aside for Technical and Vocational Training up from $3.1 million in the current Estimates.
As part of Government’s planning for 2018/2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ budget is also set to increase to $57.7 million, even though the allocation made last year for the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations has been discounted.