ST JOHN’S, Antigua – There was chastisement for parliamentarians and support for Minister of Finance Harold Lovell, yesterday, when Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer made his contribution to the 2012 Budget Debate.
The meeting of the Lower House, which began on Monday, has been characterised by disgruntlement from MPs on both sides and poor participation, which led to a government side walkout and the historic adjournment for lack of a quorum on Wednesday evening.
“I was somewhat taken aback by what I consider to be the degeneration in the debate on a very important subject matter that took us, certainly the presentation of some members, into serious deviations and excursions which have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand,” Spencer said in a preamble to his substantive presentation.
“And I have to chide even members on my side of the aisle for being guilty of that and, Madam Speaker, I would hope that we would not have this kind of display again in this honourable House. It does not speak well for us as parliamentarians, and the public out there is not amused,” Spencer said.
During the debate, criticism came from the opposition side as expected, but there was also substantial bellyaching from members of the government.
Several MPs – including Minister of Agriculture Hilson Baptiste who lamented the $16.3 million allocation, casting blame on his permanent secretary and technicians – were unabashed in saying that their allotments were insufficient, though they would later say they supported the budget.
“We don’t have nine governments,” the PM chided. He then offered full support to Lovell and the 2012 Budget.
“I don’t believe that deep down in his heart he can feel comfortable, especially when he would have listened to some of the comments coming from his own colleagues on this side of the aisle. We can disagree and have our personal views but there is such a thing as collective responsibility, which must be discharged in situations like these,” Spencer said.
He charged that some parliamentarians had been swept away by emotions, and that some even abused parliamentary privilege, “with some of the things that we say about individuals, public servants and others, using the cover of this House.”
Spencer reminded his ministers that the budget is not the “Minister of Finance’s Budget” but rather the presentation of the United Progressive Party administration.
He also warned his ministers that they would be called upon to do “even more with less.”
“You have to accept that, especially in the context of the times in which we are operating,” the prime minister said.