Mid-Year Budget Debate Is A Waste Of Time Says Maurice Tynes

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( The letter first appeared in The Nassau Guardian 5 March 2021. Mr. Tynes if he former Chief Clerk of The House of Assembly and Senate.—( Editor)

Dear Editor,

The mid-year budget exercise as currently carried out in Parliament is a waste of parliamentary time, members’ time and of those public officers involved in putting together the figures, graphs and analytics for the exercise. Time could be better used in preparing for the annual budget exercise which is a constitutional mandate.

The first mid-year budget was presented on February 25, 2008. It was touted by then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham as “the establishment of a level of transparency and accountability which is, without doubt, a noteworthy enhancement in the process of governance”.

We in The Bahamas should be accustomed to this type of hyperbole and self-aggrandizement by politicians, especially prime ministers. The exercise has not been mid-year (March 1), nor has it been an enhancement of the level of democracy.

These attempts at enlightening the public on the budget performance turn out to be merely a second opportunity for government members to sycophantly sing the praises of the government and for the opposition to criticize the performance of the governing party on its choices and priorities.

However, there is a useful role for the government to play in informing the public at the mid-year point on how their projections for fiscal restraint, discipline in expenditure and revenue enhancement have performed to that point.

This review of the government’s performance is better suited for an exercise outside of the annual budget exercise when the emphasis is not on performance appraisal, but rather on projecting and forecasting for the impending financial year.

The Bahamian people do not need two budget debates within a matter of two or three months. The annual budget “debate” is in itself an arduous and taxing process for the parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. Why do it twice in three months?

I would like to see at the mid-year mark for the Ministry of Finance to make a comprehensive statement on the public finances of the country detailing both the revenue performance and the expenditure collection.

These performance appraisals should be put in the context of evaluating the government’s efficiency in executing the annual budget targets they outlined for the first six months of the fiscal year.

Again, there is no need for five or six days of debate at this juncture in the financial year. A full debate on these assessments on the government’s six months performance could only be redundant and counterproductive.

My advice would be that both the annual budget communication and the mid-year statement should be made before a joint sitting of the House and Senate.

After the mid-year statement, the parliamentarians can then pose questions of Cabinet ministers and senior government officials responsible for compiling the budgets of various ministries and departments. By the end of the work day, the process is completed and attention can then be focused on preparation of the annual budget.

The mid-year budget statement is also an opportunity for the government to realign some of its priorities and reallocate funding to agencies such as social services, which will constantly require supplemental funding.

The funds should come from allocations that were under utilized in other agencies and not from supplemental appropriation bills.

The mid-year point is not the time to introduce new spending bills and borrowing resolutions.

These legislative matters ought to be left for the annual budget exercise. It is certainly not the occasion for days of nonsensical debate and showboating.

— Maurice Tynes