Editorial: Political astronomy

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As the year comes to a close, there is one glaring omission by the government in all of its boasts of good governance and transparency – the budget! You see, there is a small, pesky bit of legislation called The Finance Administration Act, 2006 that relegates how money is to be administered by the government and with zero days left in the year, the current administration seems to be headed toward missing the deadline. We should make it clear that the Act takes this type of scenario into consideration (where there is no year-end budget) so there is no ‘wrongdoing’ as some are claiming. And by the way, it is something which the previous administration did as well.
To better understand, let’s turn to the Act to see why this is so very important and why everyone should be concerned that there has been no attempt to table the budget in Parliament or give some reasonable explanation as to why there may be a delay. The Act is described as such: “AN ACT to provide for the control and management of public finance, for the operation and control of the Consolidated Fund, for the authorisation of expenditures, for the establishment of Special Funds and Deposit Funds, for the raising of money by the Government, for the management and control of the public debt and the giving of guarantees, for the investment of public money, for the preparation of the Public Accounts, for the governance of statutory bodies, for the amendment of the Finance and Audit Act (Cap. 168) and for the repeal of the Development Fund Act (Cap. 134), for transitional matters and consequential amendments and to provide for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.”
As you can see, it is pretty comprehensive, as it should be. Within the Act, there is a provision forthe annual budget. Specifically, 25.(1) states “Subject to subsection (2), the Minister shall cause to be prepared and laid before the House, before the beginning of the financial year, annual estimates of the revenue and expenditure, both current and capital, of the Government for that financial year.” And what does subsection (2) state? Well, it says, “If circumstances arise, over which the Minister has no control, which prevent him from preparing and laying the estimates before the House before the beginning of the financial year in accordance with subsection (1), The Minister may prepare and lay the estimates before the House not later than 90 days after the beginning of the financial year.”
Now, we do not know of any circumstances beyond the control of the Minister that could have prevented him from preparing and presenting the budget, but we are going to guess and say that the passage of Hurricane Irma will be used as the ‘excuse du jour.’ In any case, 29 (1) of the Act does provide for the continued operation of the Government for up to 4 months. It states, “If the appropriation Act for a financial year has not come into operation at the commencement of the financial year, the Minister may by provisional general warrant under his hand authorise expenditures necessary to carry on the services of Government until the expiration of four months from the beginning of that financial year or the coming into operation of the appropriation Act, whichever is the earlier, but – ”There is always a “but”, but not really necessary for this discussion.
Where this gets interesting when it is read in conjunction with The Antigua and Barbuda Constitution and all of this talk of an early election. Clause 61. (1) of the constitution states that “A general election of members of the House shall be held at such time within three months after every dissolution of Parliament …” So, on one hand, the Government can run for up to four months in a new year on general warrants issued by the Minister of Finance (if there is no budget), and, on the other hand, a general election must be called within three months after the dissolution of Parliament. Is this another clue that elections may be called in early 2018?
The timing would be extremely tight, but it is doable. The PM could call a snap election with the hope that his party would be returned to office with a new mandate before the time window for presenting a new budget runs out. The strategy of delaying the budget would be a good one, especially if the budget is not friendly to the people. Why risk possible budget criticism and alienating the people heading into an election when you may be able to return with a fresh mandate and not have to worry about backlash for a few years?
The PM stated that he never said that there would be an early election but only that it would come like a thief in the night. Right now, however, the planets seem to be aligning and pointing toward an early 2018 election. We see roads being patched, ham and turkeys being distributed, and we suspect that there will be Bird-Browne in the Senate in the new year. That being said, if these astrological readings are incorrect, then it is very likely that we will be having this discussion again at the end of 2018.

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