Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Constitutional crisis looms! - Holness Gov't may struggle for numbers to approve Budget

Published:Tuesday | March 14, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Derrick Smith

The Andrew Holness administration could run into difficulties to get parliamentary approval next week for the Budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

That is because of the absence of St Andrew North Western Member of Parliament Derrick Smith, who is ill and undergoing treatment in Miami, Florida.

A key source in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) told The Gleaner yesterday that while Smith is "recovering well", a date for his return to the House of Representatives has not been confirmed.

The source, however, said Smith's return is expected "shortly".

The debate on the Appropriation Bill (the Budget) is scheduled to end next week Wednesday, March 22, and under fiscal rules, the Budget must be passed by April 1, when the 2017-2018 fiscal year starts.

If Smith remains absent, that reduces the Government's numbers to 31 - the same as the Opposition's. However, only 30 members of the Government will be allowed to vote, as the Speaker, under the rules of the House, is not allowed to vote unless there is a deadlock.

The 31 majority for the Opposition could plunge the country into a parliamentary crisis.

The JLP won the February 2016 general election by a one-seat majority - 32 to the People's National Party's (PNP) 31.

 

UNDER DISCUSSION

 

The PNP has described the tax package to fund the Budget as "unconscionable and a betrayal of the trust of the people in their Government" - a posture that has led to questions about whether the Opposition will call for a divide and possibly force a constitutional crisis.

Phillip Paulwell, the leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives, told The Gleaner that the issue was down for discussion at yesterday's meeting of opposition members of parliament.

"I can't recall a precedent like this. This was historical where a party has a one-seat margin," noted political historian Troy Caine. "There's a lot of things hanging on the approval of the Budget. Clearly, in a case like this, one hand can't clap and the Opposition ought to have the country's welfare in mind."