If both the opposition and the government understood where each other was coming from, it would reduce the level of political antagonism between the two sides.
The political temperature is likely to increase in the weeks ahead as we approach that dreaded national Budget which the government – with justification – believes it has a right to develop and over which the opposition feel they have the final say.
Both sides cannot have it their own way. If protracted differences are to be avoided, there has to be better understanding of each other’s role.
The opposition may feel that the only real parliamentary weapon that is at their disposal in order to extract concessions from the government has to do with the exercise of their majority of one which is required to pass the Budget Appropriations Bill. But this does not give the opposition the right to be involved in developing the Budget.
Having the opposition’s input in the Budget is a gesture of goodwill on the part of government. The opposition, however, tends to feel that they have a right, because of their majority of one, to set terms and to make threats about what is likely to happen should those terms not be obeyed.
The opposition thinks in terms of exercising power and not in terms of being the alternative government and of exercising political oversight, which is really the true role of the opposition in a parliamentary democracy.
Unfortunately, the opposition has problems accepting this and more so since they feel that a minority government gives them the right to decide how the affairs of State should be run.
They do not understand that in Westminster systems of parliamentary democracy the affairs of State are run by the government and never by the opposition. This is where the problem lies, because the opposition is trying to dictate government policy rather than exercising oversight and offering alternatives to government’s policies.
This approach represents a misapplication of the role of the opposition. The opposition is not the government and should not try to run the government from their legislative benches.
The tripartite talks are about to resume – and not surprisingly so, since there is need for some agreement to be reached on the Budget. The opposition wanted to be involved in drafting the Budget. Fearful of what this example can do in the name of shared governance, the government was quick to indicate that it holds the right to prepare its own Budget, after consultations with various stakeholders.
The opposition is not interested in consultations. They feel that they should be part of preparing the Budget.
There is no reason, however, why the two distinct postures – on the one hand by government in wanting to go it alone, and on the other hand the opposition in wanting to be part of the preparation of the Budget – should lead to the sort of antagonisms that we had last year.
One opposition party, the AFC, has submitted its Budget proposals and the response has been to the effect that the government will see if it can accommodate any of these proposals in the Budget. As bad as the opposition has been in this country, this dismissive attitude by the government will only lead to further problems.
The AFC’s proposals are not feasible, but this does not mean that the government should simply say that they will see whether any of these proposals can be incorporated. The government knows that none of the AFC’s Budget proposals will ever see the light of day, because they are not workable, or simply because the government believes that the AFC is using the Budget proposals to see if they can have some of their manifesto promises implemented.
Whichever way you twist it, the government needs the support of the opposition to ensure that this year’s Budget is smoothly passed. As such, it should make a more serious attempt to hammer out an agreement with the parliamentary opposition after the Budget is read. It is clear that the government will not entertain any serious pre-Budget consultations with the opposition, because it does not wish to impugn what it believes to be the government’s inherent right to table a PPP/C Budget.
The opposition should therefore relax until after the Budget speech is read and then make their demands. The government will be willing to talk then, not just because it has to, but also because this is the way it prefers these matters to proceed. It wants to table its own Budget.
This is how the government is thinking. It is not opposed to talks or negotiations; it just wants its right to table its own Budget to be respected. After then it will talk!
If each side therefore makes a better effort to understand how the other is thinking and if each side accepts its defined role, then the public will not have to be placed under duress, wondering whether the opposition and government’s antics in the National Assembly will lead to new elections and all the nonsense that follows.
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