IT IS SAFE to say that the country has been short-changed by the abrupt end on Saturday to the debate on the 2022 budget in the House of Representatives.
And while Government Minister may well make an appearance for the Senate-leg of the budget debate – since ministers who are elected representatives are granted the privilege of addressing that unelected Upper House chamber – the same cannot be said of elected Opposition MPs.
The premature end of the budget debate in the House on Saturday was an unsatisfactory outcome for all concerned. Parliamentary sittings have become relatively scarce due to covid19, and both Government and Opposition MPs had a duty to ensure they were on the same page with regard to the logistics.
There is a reason why, once passed in the House, the Senate cannot amend or vote down the budget: it is a money bill, and one primarily concerned with the people at that.
In this context, debate in the House is of an importance not matched in the other chamber. Indeed, it is an insult to the beleaguered people of Trinidad and Tobago, many of whom are anxiously seeking answers after Finance Minister Imbert’s budget presentation, for either side to spin the collapse of the debate in the House of Representatives as a triumph over their opponent.
If it is a triumph, it is a triumph of foolishness over facts.
Of the Government MPs, Prime Minister Dr Rowley, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Energy Minister Stuart Young, Housing Minister Pennelope Beckles and the very leader of Government Business in the House, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, were among those who did not speak in the House.
While Ministers have appeared before the Standing Finance Committee to give details and answer questions regarding allocations to their specific ministries, that forum was limited by its structure: it involves the narrow examination of line items without much room for real accountability.
But if the Government has wrongly placed all of its eggs in one Senate basket, the Opposition must also be called on to explain the inept manner in which it effectively abandoned its duty.
The public saw, through broadcast footage, no real attempt on Saturday by any UNC MP to signal displeasure or protest the premature end of the debate. Indeed, moments earlier one MP even joked that the Minister of Finance should wrap up.
The joke, however, was on all of us.