Naming the Budget
Lance Neita, Contributor
The Budget debate this year is likely to be an acrimonious affair charged as it is with the controversial International Monetary Fund stipulations to be played out as events unfold.
The reduced Budget laid on the table by Finance Minister Audley Shaw is a 'no surprise' one but gives the Opposition much room for articulating the nervousness and discomfort that is already being felt in sectors to be affected by the proposed cuts.
The Speaker will have his hands full as the more energetic members get ready to rumble. Parliament is, of course, no stranger to spirited exchanges and the rough and tumble of debate. Nor should one expect meek and mild behaviour from persons saddled with the responsibility of dissecting and analysing such issues and proposals that will have long-lasting impact on the future of Jamaica.
Indeed, during the 1969 debate The Gleaner's parliamentary reporter Ulric Simmonds, feared and respected for his cutting critique of politicians, opined that "a little boisterousness is the very essence of good parliamentary debate", and thought that the Speaker had put "a hurried damper on the natural ebullience of Bully Josephs, Victor Grant, Ernest Peart, Keble Munn, Wills O. Isaacs, and Florizel Glasspole".
However, we hope that this year's performance will be of a high standard and will avoid the boorishness that too often clouds the issues.
Fortuitously, the opening of the debate coincides with a period when the nation's attention, focused on the serious matter of bun and cheese consumption at this time of the year, may be distracted from having to follow too closely the other weighty matters being taken up in Gordon House.
There was a tradition or trend, notably in the 1960s, when the finance minister would attach a name to his Budget presentation. Donald Sangster described his first Budget presented in 1962 as the Stocktaking Budget, noting that the new Government needed time to take a keener look at financial affairs.
Jamaica's largest Budget
His first full Budget was presented with much fanfare on April 10, 1963 as the Action Budget, boasting that it was Jamaica's largest Budget to date, and passing the 50-million pound barrier for the first time with an estimated gross expenditure of £55 million (J$110 million).
His Production Budget was in 1964, while on April 29, 1965, he came up with the Expansion Budget, where a consumption tax was introduced into the system. He was at pains to point out that the tax was on luxury items like cigarettes, motor cars and imported confectionery. Whiskey was shot with a 10 per cent increase, while the lowly Buccaneer cigarette, remaining at 9d per pack, got a reprieve.
Then came the Consolidation Budget on April 14, 1966 with 76 million pounds and no new taxes, but with the minister having to put up a stout defence of the recently introduced National Insurance Scheme programme which the Opposition had earlier labelled a form of new taxation. It was the final Budget before the 1967 elections and opposition member Max Carey launched a scathing attack on the estimates before rounding off his speech by wishing the Government "good night, good night, and farewell".
Sangster died while preparing the 1967 Budget and it was Edward Seaga who presented the estimates, continuing the tradition by naming it the Impact Budget, in turn, described by the Opposition as the Soak-the-Poor Budget.
The year 1968 saw Seaga's Expansion Budget with an estimated £102 million expenditure, and the introduction of the National Lottery. He came back with his Reform Budget in 1969.
The habit of naming the Budget faded in the 1970s, but each exercise has had a distinctive feature and personality which will make interesting reading in further columns.
All Budgets have been given their own peculiar nickname by the public, the media, and the Opposition, and it has never been what the Government would like it to be. It will be interesting to see what handle will be attached to this year's presentation.