KINGSTON — The House of Representatives passed the First Supplementary Estimates 2011/12 shortly after 11 pm Thursday September 8, after ending a stalemate between Government and Opposition members of the Public Administrations and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) over the wording of its report.
The protracted delay was ended late Thursday afternoon, after the Prime Minister, the Hon Bruce Golding, intervened. He held discussions with Opposition Leader, the Most Hon Portia Simpson Miller, after she had signaled another walk out by Opposition members in response to the Government members’ refusal to back off a decision to amend an initial report supported by the Opposition.
The Government members claimed that the report the Opposition wanted tabled in the House of Representatives, did not fully reflect the committee’s proceedings, and was biased against the Government. The PAAC is a sessional select committee ofthe House chaired by Opposition MP, Dr. Wykeham McNeill, but with a majority of Government members. The committee’s mandate includes examining budgetary expenditure by Government agencies.
Following an agreement to table two reports –majority and minority- the Standing Finance Committee, which includes all 60 MPs, met for its review of the estimates which dragged on into the evening, after which the House eventually met and passed the budget. The debate heard from both Mr. Golding and Mrs. Simpson Miller.
Minister of Finance, the Hon Audley Shaw, who opened the debate, got up to close minutes after 11 p.m.
He said that the reshaping of the budget was necessary under the new fiscal responsibility regime, introduced recently by the administration to ensure Parliament’s approval of all levels of Government expenditure. He said this followed the Cabinet’s decision to implement the outstanding seven percent pay increase owing to public sector workers this month.
Mr. Shaw admitted that reshaping the budget was not an easy exercise, but said that, despite the challenges, the Government had preserved its most critical social programmes.
He noted that the new estimates would ensure the continued expansion of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) to over 360,000 persons living below the poverty line; keep the school feeding programme intact; honour Government’s commitments on hospital user fees and schools’ cost sharing fees; as well as provide MPs with additional funds to help meet the needs of their constituents.
“In this hostile global climate we are in now, we have to give thanks that the economy is stable,” Mr. Shaw told the House. The House approved the new estimates.
By Balford Henry, JIS Reporter & Editor