Gov’t, Opposition Mum On Estimates.
SAINT LUCIANS expecting a debate on the 2015/2016 Estimates of Expenditure from parliamentarians on both sides of the House were left high and dry yesterday. Now both sides are blaming the other for the debacle.
Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony says he is disappointed by what took place while Opposition Leader Gail Rigobert said it was not a protest by members on her side of the House.
This unusual scenario which played itself out yesterday morning after the Prime Minister presented the Estimates surprised the entire House.
Both the government and the opposition later took to the media to explain their respective positions.
According to the Prime Minister after the presentation of the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, it is usual practice for the Opposition to lead off the debate. He said that the same procedure applies after the presentation of the Budget Statement. Thereafter, other parliamentarians intervene and make their presentations.
“This is unprecedented, unfortunate and disappointing. The Government of Saint Lucia will not accept any responsibility for the failure of the Opposition to manage its affairs in the House of Assembly,” the Prime Minister said.
The opposition United Workers Party took another view.
“We would like to say that the position that we adopted this morning was not a protest. We did not walk out, we came expecting there to be a healthy debate on this year’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure and after having listened to the MP from Vieux Fort and Prime Minister we expected that members on the government side would clarify and expand and pronounce on the Ministries of which they are responsible. We waited and waited and waited and the Speaker of the House not receiving a signal on either side closed the debate,” Rigobert said.
“It is interesting what happened in the House today. It is as if the government is behaving in a manner that when the opposition does not speak the government does not have anything to say. I thought the plans of running the country resides with the government. This is not the budget of the opposition so why would the opposition be the ones to speak first,” Guy Joseph, Parliamentarian for Castries Southeast said.
“I think today was a sad day that our democracy had reached a point where a party in government would choose to blame an opposition for all the maladies it has caused in our country. And today their behaviour was no exception,” political leader Allen Chastenet said.
Arsene James, parliamentarian for Micoud South, agrees with his leader stating that while he was prepared to debate the Estimates there were certain things in the Prime Minister’s presentation that were not clear to him hence he waited someone from the government side to speak first to clarify the issues he needed clarified.
“For the past three years, I have been the one who has started the debate in parliament because I always felt that we needed to articulate our position with regards to the economy, unemployment and things of this nature. This year the Prime Minister made his presentation and in his presentation he referred to the various ministries and their achievements and he also said that the ministers would explain further. “I wanted to hear what the ministers had to explain. The Prime Minister said there was a subsidy of $4 million on flour and we all know that the subsidies on flour, rice and sugar were removed. I was surprised at that. If you removed subsidies on flour why would you now have to pay $4 million. It means that something is wrong. I needed to know what the problem was. He also mentioned subsidy under the Education Ministry. He did not say what the subsidy was for. There was just a figure. He did not say where it would go to, whether it would go to the transportation programme of that Ministry, the feeding programme or to books, so how could I go out there and debate subsidies.
“There were a number of issues that were not clear to us. I am ready to debate. I decided to let the members on the government side start the debate for once. If the debate had started I would definitely have made my presentation this morning,” James said.
A press release from the Prime Minister stated that when the House convened four Opposition Members, namely Rigobert, James, Edmund Estaphane and Joseph were present. Towards the end of the Prime Minister’s presentation, Joseph left the Chamber.
“At the end of the Prime Minister’s presentation, the Speaker put the question to the House in the customary manner. There was a period of silence and no member turned on the microphone to signal intent to speak. The Speaker put the question again and another period of silence ensued. At that point, the Speaker of the House proceeded to present the motion for approval. No member of the House voted against the motion. The Prime Minister then moved for the adjournment of the House of Assembly, sine die,” the release stated in part.