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No backbenchers for Budget, Sectoral debates

Published:Wednesday | January 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

AFTER MORE than two decades of agitation, parliamentarians have agreed on far-reaching changes to the Budget and Sectoral debates that will squeeze out middle- and backbenchers.

Not even state ministers or junior ministers will be allowed to participate in either of the debates, which are annual staples on the parliamentary agenda.

The 2015-2016 Budget Debate, scheduled for the first time to be completed before the customary April 1 start of the new financial year, will be confined to the prime minister, finance minister, opposition leader and another representative of the Opposition, likely its spokesman on finance.

And only senior ministers or 'frontbenchers' will be allowed to contribute to the Sectoral Debate instead of all 63 members of parliament from both sides of the political divide.

These were among the changes agreed on yesterday by the Standing Orders Committee of Parliament.

Leader of government business in the House of Representatives, Phillip Paulwell, told The Gleaner after the meeting that a report of the committee's recommendations will be sent to the House of Representatives for its approval.


"It is better management of the parliamentary time. It is an effort to get back public support to understand what happens in Parliament," Paulwell explained.

"Right now, people are tuned out. We are responding to the public … . People are saying they have lost interest in Parliament," he continued.

The expedited process is a requirement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stipulated fiscal rule legislation [Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act], which seeks to ensure that the Budget is presented ahead of the new financial year.

The finance ministry has already announced that the Estimates of Expenditure for the new financial year, along with the estimates of revenue, the fiscal policy paper and the debt-management strategy will all be tabled on February 19.

Another one of the changes agreed on by the Standing Orders Committee is the staging of an annual constituency debate to allow backbenchers an opportunity to make recommendations that would impact the budgetary process.

According to Paulwell, it has been suggested that this year's constituency debate commence in September.

"It would allow backbenchers to be first presenters and it would be done before there is the Budget call. So before the minister of finance meets with ministries to ascertain what are the proposals for expenditure and revenues, the MP (members of parliament) would be able to speak to some of the things they want to see," he explained.