How Caribbean budget debates reflect political leadership at party and state Levels

BUDGET debates do have a way of bringing out the best and worst in political parties that have held office; and party leaders, in and out of office, are also always subject to the best and worst of treatment by colleagues and comrades when the chips are down.
Saint Lucia is preparing for the first budget presentation by the new Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration led by Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre.

At the February 2 sitting of the House of Assembly – the sixth since the July 26, 2021 General Elections, the Prime Minister, who is also responsible for Finance, Economic Development and The Youth Economy, presented an amendment to the Public Finance Management Act to bring the legislation in sync with the constitution, leading to former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Allen Chastanet, now Leader of the opposition, circulating to all MPs (ahead of the session) a document basically calling on Pierre to ‘Do things right’ and observe ‘Transparency and Accountability’ — in ways never demonstrated during his five years at the helm of the ship of state.

In response, the government side – with 15 of the 17 seats in the House – unleashed an almost endless stream of exposures of untendered contracts directly awarded by Chastanet’s Cabinet ahead of the last general elections to un-named persons and entities associated with or supportive of the then-ruling United Workers Party (UWP).

The exposed contracts, issued by Direct Award (with no invitations to bid) add-up to hundreds of millions of EC Dollars (US $1=EC $2.71), at a time when COVID was raging and monies borrowed by government in its name were redirected to other non-medical uses.
But the Opposition Leader’s contribution sounded like he’d written a Handbook on Best Practices for Transparency and Accountability in Handling Public Finances.

In Guyana, where parliamentary politics (like in all other CARICOM states belonging to the British Commonwealth) is geared to facilitate a structured debated between Government and Opposition, ‘For and Against’ everything presented in any National Budget in exchanges more about comparison of periods in office than an interchange of ideas on how best to agree on and implement the best of the proposals tabled.

Opposition parties with insufficient parliamentary numbers to prevent ruling parties from ‘winning’ after the votes are counted tend to resort to trying their best to score debating points by going overboard and hitting under-the-belt during such debates and ‘Opposing for Opposing Sake’ instead of cooperating for The National Good, lending to continuing process of best approaches to handling of national issues, instead of two parts of one whole quarreling and fighting as two sides of one chamber in an endless power contest.

Political leadership in such circumstances is of paramount importance at both party and state levels and in both Small Saint Lucia and Big Guyana this is being manifested as the parliamentarians discuss and debate over budgets.

In Saint Lucia, the UWP lost nine of the 11 seats it held in the previous 17-member Parliament, the SLP administration now commanding 15 of the 17 votes after winning 14 and entering into a tactical alliance with the winning Independent candidates who’re now Cabinet Ministers under Pierre — one a former UWP Leader and Prime Minister (Stephenson King) and the other a former UWP Housing Minister (Richard Frederick).

Chastanet insists he’ll not resign over the 15-2 electoral drubbing he led the UWP into and is staying on until the party decides otherwise.

It did not appear the leader of Guyana’s APNU+AFC alliance was prepared to easily step aside after the December Sophia Congress resulted in an overwhelming expression of support for a new leader seen in the light of a brigadier’s view of a hot-footed army vet with eyes on becoming the new Chairman of the Opposition’s Joint Chiefs-of-Staff.

New PNC Leader Aubrey Norton has been able to facilitate his entry into Parliament without the blessing of his predecessor, who retains command of the alliance’s parliamentary Situation Room.

But while the former Leader of the Opposition has reluctantly bowed out, there’s no guarantee Norton will automatically inherit that seat as the new party leader, again leaving him at then unlikely mercy of the brigadier who decides on deployment of the party’s parliamentary troops.
In this case, the seasoned soldier will come up with his own tactical and strategic battle-plan to become the party’s next Maximum Leader.

But the tests of leadership challenging political leaders in and out of office is similarly reflected in the current situation facing British Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Boris Johnson, who’s been credited with keeping the Tories in office at a time when everyone felt Labour and Jeremy Corbin would have unseated them at the last elections after dumping Theresa May.

The Tories now have a safe over-180-seat majority in Parliament, but after the worsening of COVID under his watch, the exposures of ‘Downing Street Parties’ and a former Transport Minister saying she lost her post because of ‘Islamophobia’ are being used to pile pressure by those who want him to ‘resign, or else…’

All of a sudden, the man the Tories depended on to take them home into a safe election victory is now considered a liability and – like Chastanet in Saint Lucia – is being told ‘Move, or get pushed!

COVID continues to change how everything is done everywhere — except the politics of old in a new age, 20th Century ‘politricks’ in the 21st Century Age of Climate Change, execution of Ice-Age hostilities in an IT Universe.

But political climate change is usually a slow historical process, which only proceeds as fast as traditionally opposing sides start seeing each-other with new visions — as part of a common whole, with national interests a common denominator.

Meanwhile, ruling parties will continue to rule by parliamentary numbers – and there’s not much opposition parties without the numbers can do about it.

And the struggle continues.

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