Editorial: We now turn our attention to the budget

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So many people were hoping for some nugget of definitive evidence of an upcoming election in the Governor General’s (GG) Throne Speech. Those that are convinced of an early election would naturally find two twos and call that five, while pointing to any references to achievements by the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration as a prelude to an election. We did not hear it.
The Throne Speech delivered what it should, which roughly translates into a report card, while laying out the broad goals of the administration for the upcoming year. Call it a ‘state of the nation’ kind of speech, if you like, but you should not hope for any clear indications of an upcoming election in the Governor General’s presentation, whether an election is coming or not.
With that said, all eyes will turn to the budget. The same set of criteria will apply, but in the case of the budget, it is usually a better indicator of whether the administration will call an election within the coming year. Election budgets are nothing new. Incumbent governments have always used election- year budgets to ‘butter up’ the population and get those good feelings going. So, please, let us not hear the usual opposition rhetoric about “They only doing this because an election is coming.” Yes, they may be doing exactly that, but can we all stick to the issues and have a healthy debate rather than anchoring the argument in such frivolity?
We all know the game. Soften the blow with an election budet and hope for votes. The opposition retorts with feigned horror at the timing and sincerity of the relief being offered in the budget, and the issues never get debated because we are all too busy pointing fingers while shaking our heads in disbelief at the political opposition. So, if the government decides to give a tax break or introduce a new social benefit, the discussion is not whether the tax break is beneficial or not, it is whether the timing is opportunistic and the offer of relief sincere.
Political shouting, or rather grandstanding, takes priority while the people are usually deprived of the benefit of a robust discussion on the impacts of the budget. There is a lot riding on the proper administration of the peoples’ business and it all hinges on the budget. And it is big business. We need only reflect on the Governor General’s presentation to get an understanding of the value of our business called Antigua and Barbuda.
The GG pointed out, “In 1981, the Gross National Product (GNP) of our islandcountry totaled US$125,000,000 (one hundred and twenty-five million dollars). Today, 2018, three and one-half decades later, the GNP of Antigua and Barbuda is US$1,500,000,000 (one billion five hundred million dollars). That amount is ten times the quantum at the start of our independence.” How many people make ten times what they did in 1981? In any case, that is a lot of money and how it is spent makes a huge difference in our lives.
At the same time, it is generally not enough to do all that everyone wants, and governments are usually caught between a rock and a hard place to properly divvy the scarce resources at hand. That balancing act is even harder during an election year because it is difficult to face the public when you may have had to introduce somewhat harsh taxation measures to correct the revenue streams.
So, administrations revert to election year budgets to quell the masses with the refrain, “Even though things are bad, we are a caring government … blah … blah … blah.” Caring, of course, means, “We care for your votes.” The opposition gets no pass on this one because they play the same game. Yes, it is the role of the opposition to oppose, but really their role is also to debate the issues at hand and educate the people while presenting good options to the agenda being proposed by the incumbent administration.
By now, you would have realised that the criticism is generic. It makes no difference who is in power and who is in opposition. The election year budget game is the same. This year may or may not be an election year budget, but we naively hope that our politicians will up their game and deliver a meaningful debate of the issues and not focus on the possibility of an election. We leave you with the secret of knowing whether you have just heard an election budget or not. If you are left with a good feeling about what was said and the government committed to spending money to fix all, or most, of your areas of concern, then you probably were just treated to an election year budget. Now let’s see what happens.

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