Published On: Sun, Jun 9th, 2019

No sense of urgency

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Membership of parliament is supposed to be a full time job and our fifteen parliamentarians are handsomely paid for it. Yet, according to a proposal submitted by MPs Rolando Brison, Christophe Emmanuel and Jurendy Doran – one week is not enough to review a budget that runs 355 pages.

That number of pages may sound overwhelming on its own. But how bad is it really? A regular work week of five days – with 8-hour days – has 40 hours.

If an MP would devote that time to reviewing the budget, he (or she) would have to get through 8.9 pages per hour. To put it another way: for reviewing each page, the good MP would have 6 minutes and 45 seconds.

With pressing matters like the 2019 budget – and almost half the year gone – one would expect MPs to use all seven days of the week available to them for tearing through the budget.

In that scenario they would have 56 hours to do the job which would require reading 6.3 pages per hour. They would have 9 minutes and 32 seconds for each and every page.

And mind you – not everything in the amended budget is new. There are amendments – and there is an elucidation that clarifies those amendments.

I respect the wish of parliamentarians for wanting to do a thorough job. But there is no sense of urgency and no guarantee even that the budget meeting will take place in the first week of July.

After all, July is the month of recess for parliament. How many MPs have already made reservations for their vacation? How many of them will be off island?

And how many members of the opposition will then bemoan the possible lack of quorum, caused by their desire to postpone this meeting?

I know that, as long as the budget for a year has not been approved, the government has to work with the budget of the previous year. I also know from comments by financial supervisor Cft that postponing this budget is going to take a bite out of the government’s revenue; that’s because certain cost cutting measures – like the looming lowering of the salaries for parliamentarians – will only go into effect after the budget has been approved.

There is another piece of legislation waiting for approval: the pension reform for civil servants. The government wanted to do this per May 1, but that date is long gone – and there is strong opposition against the reform plans from several parliamentarians.

In its comments on the draft 2019 budget financial supervisor Cft has expressed disappointment that this reform was not in place by January 1 of this year. Part of the reform is lowering the premium the government pays into this pension fund (from 25 to 18 percent). Had the legislation been in place by January 1, the government would have saved $6.3 million. With half the year gone, and the fate of the reform uncertain, already half of those savings have evaporated.

And here is another potential consequence of the sluggish handling of the budget: the Cft has stated that it will take the lack of progress with pension reform (and a decision about lower salaries for MPs) into consideration when it comes to providing liquidity support.

Seen from this perspective, the opposition’s desire to take its time reviewing the budget comes with a hefty price tag – and tax payers will just have to put up with it.

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Related article:
Parliament postpones handling 2019 budget