An overblown situation
The verdict is out because the country is divided on the budgetary cuts. The government presented a $192.8 billion budget and proclaimed that it was the largest ever in the country. Indeed it should be because each year there is inflation. Should the government maintain the same level of spending each year every succeeding budget would be the largest ever because there would be financial additions to compensate for inflation.
But this time there was a massive public relations campaign on the part of the government. People heard the pleading that any budgetary cut would lead to job loss. The result is that sugar workers in the main and the staff of the state-run communication network took to the streets in protest because they were led to believe that they were being put on the breadline.
One can understand if these organizations were in dire straits and solely depended on funding through the budget. For example, National Communication Network is said to be a private sector agency. It still enjoys a government subvention and it is this subvention that has been removed.
Its records reveal that it has grossed five times as much money as any other private television station and probably twice as much as any private media house. The stated figure of $504 million grossed by NCN should not be trifled with. Despite statements from the NCN management that the subvention is slightly less than ten per cent of its revenue, `its staff responded to reports that there would be job cuts there.
The Cabinet Secretary, Dr Roger Luncheon, did not pay too much attention to the budget cuts for NCN. Instead, the focus was on the Government Information Agency. This agency which is funded by votes directed to Office of the President is of the view that it now has no money.
The anger on the part of the staff can be understood in light of the fact that some Government officials have already pronounced that the staff has joined the breadline although they are all still at their desks performing whatever duties they did prior to the budget cuts.
When this fact is pointed out to the administration the tune changes. There are then statements that there is no money to pay the staff come May 1. Until the nation sees these people being sent home it will be hard for the government to explain the conclusion it reached in the face of the budget cuts.
In any case some of these people simply do not work. Only the inefficient need to fear retrenchment or displacement. And many are inefficient.
The largest portion of the money cut from the budget was the sum proclaimed as an advance ahead of the release of the Norway funds. The opposition is contending that rather than borrow from the public treasury it should wait for the Norway funds that it had already borrowed last year and is still to replenish this borrowed sum.
There is something that the nation has not been made aware of. Every year, despite budgetary allocations, the government resorts to the Consolidated Funds. The final budget is always larger than what is presented at the start of the year. In the face of the cuts, the government can always approach parliament for supplementary budgeting.
The general view is that the government is challenging the right of the opposition to cut the budget. Dr Luncheon recently said that the opposition is showing its strength to its supporters. All this noise about the likely impact of the budget cuts cannot be justified. What one may find is that the government may be asked to be more prudent with the taxpayers’ money, something that has never been the case despite the pleadings and the challenges by the opposition parties prior to the November 28 elections.
Already the government has an excuse of fear for seeking supplementary allocations. It is contending that the opposition had already failed to approve a supplementary allocation. This is simply a case of a government refusing being told to be more responsible with public funds and this admonition is not being well received.