What should Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition do?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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Theoretically, at least for now, the country is heading into a political crisis with the potential that the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) might not have its full slate of 32 Members of Parliament MPs in the House of Representatives should there be a need to vote to approve this year’s budget.

The JLP member for St Andrew North Western, Mr Derrick Smith, is ill and away from the island in Miami, Florida, and so could be absent if such a vote is called for by the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP). This would effectively give the PNP’s 31 MPs the edge, since we know that the Speaker of the House can only vote in a tie-breaker.

Debate on the Appropriations Bill, better known as the budget, is set to end on March 22, 2017, and fiscal rules dictate that the budget must be approved by the House by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Now, why would the PNP not want to see the budget passed?

Before we get to that unlikely pass, however, we believe that Mr Smith would do his all to be present for such a vote, even if he has to be taken to Gordon House in a wheelchair. Moreover, the PNP would have to be able to ensure that all its 31 MPs are present, so none can be seriously ill, be travelling overseas, or absent for any of the other several justifiable reasons, such as sudden death or family crisis.

The bigger question, of course, is what should be expected of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition if, the PNP in this case, finds itself in this situation of having an edge over the JLP in the numbers? What would Mrs Portia Simpson Miller instruct her party to do, as her potentially final act as Opposition leader?

We have seen in the United States, for example, budget quarrels between Republican and Democratic congressmen leading to a shutdown of the Government and the resultant pain and suffering it can cause to the country and the economy.

We don’t see a Jamaican Opposition shutting down the budgetary process in a situation where the fiscal and monetary policies and programmes bear so little difference between the two parties, especially since the agreements with the International Monetary Fund became operational in the previous Administration.

Furthermore, we also know that the Opposition leader-designate, Dr Peter Phillips, while describing the proposed $13.5-billion tax package as unconscionable and a betrayal of the trust of voters, is having what is merely a difference of opinion on where to put the tax burden.

There is nothing new or fundamental in that. Every Opposition disagrees with every Government on the revenue package, even though they would do the same were the shoe is on the other foot.

What we expect to happen between now and then is more posturing and negotiations towards achieving the most equitable tax package possible in the face of so little wiggle room. A sensible Government would do all to achieve that.

But, in the end, we expect the good sense of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition will prevail.




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