THE unexpected protraction of the debate on the Appropriations Bill has sparked discussion across the country as to the merits and de-merits of such a move.
Many St. Lucians were stunned when Prime Minister Allen Chastanet on Thursday evening called for the House to adjourn to June 20, way beyond the two to three days it usually take parliamentarians to wrap up their arguments on the bill.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), with four members yet to present their arguments, are furious with the delay and expressed their annoyance via a hastily-called press conference yesterday.
Phillip J. Pierre, the party’s political leader and Leader of the Opposition, said the party is disappointed and strongly condemns the sudden suspension of the House to just over five weeks.
“The SLP says that it was fully prepared to recommence debate on the Appropriations Bill on Friday, May 12 and was surprised at the unilateral decision of the Prime Minister. Once again, the Prime Minister is demonstrating that he is prepared to abandon long-held traditions of the Parliament by his failure to nominate one of his members to be Deputy Speaker, his refusal to debate a legitimate motion to discuss the controversial Citizenship by Investment Programme, his attempt to block and cover up the contents of the DSH Agreement — even after the Prime Minister himself had publicly disclosed that the contents were authentic — and now his unprecedented move to suspend for six weeks, the debate on the Appropriations Bill,” Pierre said.
Pierre said the Opposition looked forward to informing Saint Lucians in-depth about the $220 million deficit budget that he said will inevitably lead the country to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“So willing was the SLP to discuss the Appropriations Bill that it agreed to commence debate the day after delivery of the budget without the usual one day for preparation,” said Pierre.
The SLP is concerned that the move by the Prime Minister was another attempt to cover-up and stifle discussion on the DSH Agreement and its dangerous implications for the people of Saint Lucia.
Dr. Ernest Hilaire, Representative for Castries South, said there was an agreement between Pierre and House Speaker, Leonne Theodore-John, for the SLP parliamentarians to start the debate yesterday morning.
Alva Baptiste, Representative for Laborie, said government did not want a debate yesterday because it did not address policy.
“If you survey developements over the past two days, in terms of debate in the House, the government ministers who spoke basically did not address policy but simply attacked the former Prime Minister,” Baptiste said.
However, Nicole Mc Donald, Senior Communications Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, said the unprecedented long delay before the debate’s resumption has nothing to do with what the SLP ascribes.
According to her, given all that took place in the House this week, with the Opposition’s refusal to stick to the protocol established for the turn of speakers to the microphone, the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, decided that the following day, yesterday, would not be sufficient to allow the remaining parliamentarians enough time to express themselves and so adjourned the House to the next suitable date, hoping that that day would be suitable for everyone.
“This does not mean that the debate has ended. Neither does this mean that the work of the government has come to a stop. The work of the government, which the people elected, will continue as normal,” Mc Donald said, adding that authorization to continue the work of the government in advance of the passing of the Appropriations Bill is outlined in the Constitution.
Section 80 of the Constitution states that “there shall be such provision as may be made by Parliament under which, if the appropriation law in respect of any financial year has not come into operation by the beginning of that financial year, the Minister responsible for finance may authorize the withdrawal of moneys from the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the services of the Government until the expiration of four months from the beginning of that financial year or the coming into operation of the law, whichever is the earlier.”