The 2014 Budget estimates of $301,746,000, which is the largest budget in the territory’s history was passed in the House of Assembly on Tuesday 11 February without the members of the Opposition.
In this historical budget the projected revenue is $301,746,000. Of this figure, taxes account for $282,655,000, while $19,091,000 comes from other fees. Expenditure accounts for $246,549,500, and it was noted that contained within this expenditure is some $117,230,100 in employee compensation, $53,972,600 for Goods and Services and $10,160,100 in social benefits. $50,049,400 is appropriated for grants, mostly to statutory boards and government owned companies such as the BVI Tourist Board, Health Services Authority and the BVI Airports Authority. $9,943,800 have been appropriated for property costs and other expenses. Contribution to the Reserve Fund will be $15,500,000.
The sitting was originally scheduled for Monday 10 February, but was postponed to the following day to allow Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal who was at a Ninth District event to attend. However, the adjournment was preceded by the walking out of Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser following his exchange of words with Speaker of the House, Hon. Ingrid Moses.
Fraser Walks Out
On Monday the exchange of words between Hon. Fraser and the Speaker began when Hon. Fraser rose to make a point and was informed by the Speaker that she could not allow him to make certain points about the budget until the debate commenced. She said: “As it relates to other comments touching and concerning the budget, those I cannot allow as it would prejudice the proceedings… With that said, my position is clear…”
Hon. Fraser still tried to make his point and following a brief back and forth the Speaker called a recess of the House to consult with the Standing Orders. Upon return she made her ruling to disallow the Member to make his point until the debate began.
In response Hon. Fraser said: “It is one thing to be made a second ring Madam Speaker, which is something we have to deal with as members of the Opposition…But, when it comes to making the public the third ring of a circus that is about to be perpetrated on the public here today Madam Speaker, we would have no part of it. In that regard, I will just join my other members by not standing here to go through some debate on the budget. Let the government debate their own budget.”
In response the Speaker said: “Honourable member for the Third, I find your comments to be totally disrespectful. You could have made your position clear…but you have ventured into waters that are totally outside what I expect any member of the House to do.” Hon. Fraser then walked out of the sitting.
Debate Takes Place Without Opposition
Prior to the commencing of debate, Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith recalled that the adjournment on Monday was a means to enable the Leader of the Opposition to be present, but he announced that Hon. O’Neal informed that he will not be attending the debate.
Dr. Smith said: “Yesterday after our discussions with the Leader of the Opposition and after the House was recessed and after he was given the opportunity to come to the House today to present his side of the budget, and to make representation to the people of the Territory, unfortunately I received a call from the Leader of the Opposition this morning informing me that he was unfortunately unable to attend today’s session.”
The entire Opposition abstained from attending Tuesday’s sitting leaving the debate among members of Government. During the debate all of the Legislators praised the budget and congratulated Premier Smith for his leadership which all members stated is stellar. However, amidst the announcements of budgetary allocations and a recap of successes there was the echoed concern about why the Opposition carried out its boycott.
Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton in his debate submission said that the Opposition was there in spirit and announced that Government was there to support a budget that they believe is the best alternative that the Territory has.
However, Fifth District Representative, Hon. Delores Christopher appeared peeved by the absent seats before her, and announced that it was no laughing matter that the members of the Opposition were not present for the debate; and she opined that, “There seems to be much game playing going on to see who can say the most words, who can call ZBVI, or who can get the most blogs,” Hon. Christopher said.
At Large Representative, Hon. Archibald Christian told the House that he was confused because he expected 13 members in the debate: “When I was sworn into this Honourable House, I pledged that I would work with 13 elected officials, all 13 of us were elected by the people of this Territory to conduct the business of the Territory on their behalf. So, I never had thought in my mind that I would only be working with nine members at this time. That is not the composition of the House,” he said.
“You have an Opposition that has a role and a function and I respect that role and that function, but Madam Speaker we need to do the business of the people in a different way. I think the days of fighting and tearing down each other are things that we should consider as not very honourable for this House. I am really sorry that the members from the other side are not here today, and for them to share in this discussion and make their contribution to this budget. But they are not here and we have to continue to do what we have to do in the interest of this Territory,” the At Large Representative added.
Deputy Premier, and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering announced that he was confused by the behavior of the Opposition and mentioned that during the last administration even though there was an Opposition of only two members there was no such behavior: “I myself am a little bit baffled as to the absence of our colleagues on the other side of the House. I am still trying to figure out what triggered that whole decision and what does it mean. Hopefully I will be able to understand, but I’m lost, because debate is the bedrock of parliament and that’s what we are here about; that’s why the parliamentary system has opposing views. It is not opposing for opposing sake it is to engender debate and to help our people to understand what it is you are doing. Why it is we are doing it and hopefully how it affects their daily lives,” Dr. Pickering declared.
Minister for Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool appeared to be very upset about the Opposition’s actions and lashed out saying that Opposition members wanted to rule and oppose at the same time: “I believe that when a government is elected to govern they must govern. They do not have to worry whether an opposition does not help to come in a House and debate the budget. A government must govern. I mean, you want to be in the opposition and still govern? You want to run the country from the opposition?”
Hon. Vanterpool said: “Opposition is good and it is important but opposition must sometimes work with the vision to sometimes see where it is going and not just criticize for criticisms sake, or power sake, or for attention. Criticize for the good of the country, let’s go forward. This country has to rebuild its foundation, one that had been eroded.”