Members of the opposition say they have not been afforded enough time to review next year’s budget estimates before being asked to debate next week. Opposition members left parliament visibly disappointed as the government pressed for an expedited budget debate scheduled for next Tuesday, providing them with a mere weekend to scrutinize the extensive 1,000-page document.
After presenting his two-hour presentation, the ruling labour party government first suggested that the debate be set for next Monday, a date that was vehemently opposed to by members of the opposition. They say it is customary to give the opposition a week to review the proposed budget and were willing to settle for a debate next Thursday instead.
Despite efforts by Sir Gerald Watts, the Speaker of the House, to broker an agreement, the two parties failed to find common ground, leaving the decision hanging in limbo for approximately 30 minutes. “We recognise that the government has exigencies that they have to deal with, the opposition has a point that you can’t stuff that there and expect a proper debate and criticise when there isn’t,” he said.
Barbuda MP Trevor Walker, voicing the frustration of the opposition, exclaimed, “No way, no way, we’re protesting that. That has never been done in this House before; it’s not going to happen. We got this today, and you want us to debate this on Monday – we haven’t even seen it, are you crazy?”
Leader of the United Progressive Party, Jamale Pringle, echoed the sentiment, declaring, “This is not acceptable to the opposition. Mr. Speaker, we have requested financials and stuff like that from the prime minister; we haven’t gotten anything. We met this on our desk, Mr. Speaker, how can we come on Monday to respond to a budget that is over two hours?”
Attorney General Sir Steadroy Benjamin defended the Monday date, citing the need to accommodate government members traveling on official business. He chided the fairly newly elected opposition members calling them “experienced politicians” to the jest of supporters on the bench.
After a motion led by Benjamin and a counter motion tabled by the Barbuda MP, the date was reluctantly set for December 19th. The vote ended 9 nine in favour of the date and 7 against.
Meanwhile, Opposition MP Richard Lewis, speaking to state media immediately after the budget presentation, criticized it as a “regurgitation” of former presentations, labeling the content as weak. “I’m looking forward to the debate, but as you see, they have given us no time to prepare for a national budget,” he remarked.