DOMINICA-PM Skerrit presents budget, but opposition says it contains nothing to improve welfare of citizens

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Linton

The Dominica government has presented an EC$1.1 billion (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) budget to Parliament emphasising the need for prudent financial management as the island recovers from the battering it took from Hurricane Marie nearly a year ago.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who is also Finance Minister, told legislators that the financial resilience strategy supports careful selection and planning of projects, limiting discretionary expenditure, reducing debt, and contracting of debt on concessional terms.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit delivering budget (GIS Photo)

Skerrit said the strategy also includes strong tax administration and procurement practices that give government the best value for money “strong regulation of the financial systems including the non-bank financial sector and promoting a good statistical base to inform policy decisions”.

However, in his response to the fiscal package, Opposition Leader Lennox Linton accused the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) administration of making citizens much poorer over the past 18 years.

“For 18 long years, through budget after budget, this administration has spent more and more of the people’s money on making people poorer, destroying their quality of life and rendering them more and more incapable of making their own money, being their own people, taking care of their families and living lives of dignity,” he said.

“Indeed, the most disgraceful performance record of this administration is the more money it receives to develop the country and help the people, the worse off the people become,” Linton said, adding that the opposition has been calling for an end to the “same old failed policies of exclusion, secrecy and petty political partisanship that have made a complete mockery of the parliamentary oversight responsibility for preparation of the national budget and the management of public finances.”

The Finance Minister said that total revenues from the budget are estimated at EC$947.3 million, including recurrent revenue of EC$788.8 million and local capital revenue of five million dollars.

He said total expenditure is estimated at EC$1.1 billion comprising of recurrent expenditure of EC$598.6 million and capital expenditure of EC$454.3 million.
Skerrit said that the budget is expected to record an overall deficit of EC$105.6 million, equivalent to minus four per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

In his address, Skerrit said that non-tax revenue is estimated at EC$428.8 million for the fiscal year coming primarily from the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CBIP) “which is expected to bring in EC$406.6 million”.

He said taxes on domestic goods and services are estimated at EC$212.2 million, while the sum of EC$82.1 million is expected from taxes on international trade and transactions.

Skerrit said that his administration had been able to ‘stabilise” the situation caused by Hurricane Maria last year when it ravaged the island, causing the deaths of at least 30 people and millions of dollars in damages.

He said while rebuilding can now take place “this requires a degree of coordination or integrated thinking, of cross-cutting plans not ordinarily pursued in the course of everyday governance.

“Our task is not just a physical and financial one, premised only on building infrastructure. The social and moral dimensions are also crucial to our mission,” Skerrit told legislators in his address in which he outlined the progress being made to have Dominica become the first climate resilient country in the world.

“This phase of our development is a challenging one, but we have an unprecedented opportunity to truly transform Dominica,” Skerrit said, adding that the influx of tangible support for the island following the passage of the hurricane “was so massive that it overburdened the capacity of our ports to handle the volume of relief supplies that came pouring in”.

He said the country has now entered the recovery and rebuilding phases “and we do so with the confidence that we have the firm support of the many government and institutions that have pledged financial support to execute these phases successfully”.

But Linton told Parliament on Thursday that the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has been asking to be involved “in the budget preparation cycle where it can meaningfully contribute to the annual revenue and expenditure planning exercise.

“In 2015, in 2016, in 2017 the budget response of the parliamentary opposition went to great lengths to demonstrate why the budgets of those years and the budgets of the 15 previous years lacked credibility.”

Linton said that the fiscal packages of the past have not been “an effectively anchored, bi-partisan parliamentary mechanism to decide on and fund the growth and development priorities of Dominica.

“We advised against the dangers of driving Dominica Labour Party paramountcy to supersede the authority of our nation’s highest decision-making body, for partisan purposes like having parliament routinely rubber stamp approval of budgets that are not designed to (and therefore cannot) serve as tools to deliver the growth and development fundamentals of the Commonwealth of Dominica.

“For three straight years we have come to this parliament with constructive proposals for improving the budget formulation process,” Linton said, adding that the response has been a deafening silence.

“So, once again, for the fourth straight we present our recommendations on what needs to be done with a solemn commitment that budget process reforms will be done under the United Workers Party Team Dominica in the public interest of good, accountable government,” he said.

He told legislators that his party will present budget outlook and budget strategy papers for better public understanding of the fiscal strategy driving the revenue and expenditure allocations, enact fiscal responsibility legislation establishing principles of responsible fiscal management and transparency and issue medium term expenditure framework guidelines

He also announced a number of other measures including restricting the use of contingency warrants used to authorize unbudgeted spending, and the include in the budget, a contingency reserve for unforeseen or emergency spending

“We will improve the capital budgeting process with the introduction of performance budgeting across government by linking budget allocations to economic and social priorities, and enacting results-based budgeting”.

The budget debate is continuing.

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