Baptiste is making no secret of his displeasure and said that he feels disrespected by the way the cuts were applied without bringing him into the loop of pre-budget consultations.
Speaking yesterday during the budget debate in Parliament, Baptiste said the $16 million set aside for agriculture would not allow his ministry to pursue any significant development programmes.
“I can’t say I’m happy with the budgetary allocation for agriculture,” he stated.
“But that is because no one discussed with me, as minister, the budget for 2011-2012. For the seven years I have been in government as a minister, every budget discussion I make an input.”
Baptiste said he could not understand how his ministry’s slice of the 2012 budget got slashed to $16 million from the 2011 allocation of $19 million that was subsequently increased by $12 million on a supplemental Cabinet vote as a result of his protestations.
“I don’t know, because I was not a part of those discussions. Maybe when I was ill they took the opportunity to take advantage of the ministry. But $16 million can barely pay salaries. It means that there will be no agricultural programmes for the ministry,” he added, curiously sporting a red tie for the occasion.
Baptiste suggested that this low allocation to his ministry may have been the result of mistakes by senior officers who were in charge while he was away because of illness.
“I don’t think the amount we are getting is an indication that you (the finance minister) don’t respect or love agriculture. I think there is a mistake made by the PS in the ministry and technicians who don’t understand agriculture to fight for agriculture. I think it’s an oversight from the tigers you have in the ministry of finance who do a wonderful job. Their job is to cut and if you don’t go to them fighting, you get cut.”
Baptiste said he found it unacceptable that no one from the finance ministry held any direct discussions or consultations with him about the budgetary allocation or cuts.
He said it was misguided for them to confine or limit their contact on such matters to the permanent secretary, as she (Sharon Peters) did not go around to gain first-hand knowledge and feel for the various agricultural activities and programmes in which the ministry is engaged.
Baptise said he regularly makes such rounds with the ministry’s technicians and would therefore be best placed to make a case for suitable budgetary allocations.
“So when it comes to discussing cutting for the ministry, it is disrespectful to do it without the minister present. That to me is rude. I do understand that these are tough economic times, but we need to communicate more, and I just feel disrespected.”
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)