WILL OC­TO­BER DE­LIVER A RE­DUCED VAT?

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The throne speech is an event in cer­tain monar­chies where the reign­ing sov­er­eign, or his or her rep­re­sen­ta­tive, reads a pre­pared speech to the mem­bers of par­lia­ment when a ses­sion is opened out­lin­ing the gov­ern­ment’s agenda for the ses­sion. In Com­mon­wealth realms, the throne speech is an ora­tion that forms part of a cer­e­mony mark­ing the open­ing of par­lia­ment. Ac­cord­ing to some records the cer­e­mony goes back to Me­dieval times. Other sources place its ori­gins in the 16th cen­tury when Eng­land was an ab­so­lute monar­chy. The monarch would some­times speak to par­lia­ment in per­son but be­tween 1347 and 1363 the speech from the throne was given by var­i­ous fig­ures on the sov­er­eign’s be­half.

In to­day’s UK, within the tenets of con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy the speech is writ­ten by the sit­ting cab­i­net with or with­out the reader’s par­tic­i­pa­tion, and out­lines the leg­isla­tive pro­gram for the new par­lia­men­tary sea­son. Due to the par­lia­men­tary tra­di­tion of the sov­er­eign be­ing barred from the lower cham­ber, in those realms pos­sess­ing a bi­cam­eral par­lia­ment the cer­e­mony takes place in the leg­is­la­ture’s up­per cham­ber, with mem­bers of both houses in at­ten­dance. In Eng­land the speech is typ­i­cally read by the reign­ing sov­er­eign at the State Open­ing of Par­lia­ment.

The monarch may, how­ever, ap­point a del­e­gate to per­form the task in his or her place: Queen El­iz­a­beth did this in 1959 and in 1963 when she was preg­nant with Prince An­drew and Prince Ed­ward re­spec­tively, the Lord Chan­cel­lor de­liv­er­ing the ad­dress in­stead. In coun­tries that share with the UK the same per­son as their re­spec­tive sov­er­eign, the Speech from the Throne will usu­ally be read on the monarch’s be­half by his or her viceroy, the gov­er­nor gen­eral, although the monarch may de­liver the ad­dress in per­son.

In Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­to­ries that have in­sti­tuted the prac­tice the rel­e­vant gov­er­nor gen­eral de­liv­ers the speech. It is con­sid­ered im­proper for the au­di­ence, in­clud­ing mem­bers of par­lia­ment, to show sup­port or dis­ap­proval for any con­tent of the speech while it is be­ing read, as such is re­served for the de­bate and vote that fol­lows in leg­isla­tive cham­bers or cham­ber. Protest, how­ever, has been ex­pressed dur­ing a throne speech, such as when in 2011 Brigette DePepe, a paige in the Cana­dian Se­nate, in­ter­rupted Gov­er­nor Gen­eral David John­ston’s read­ing of the Speech from the Throne by stand­ing and hold­ing a sign call­ing for the then Prime Min­is­ter, Stephen Harper to be stopped.

Re­mark­ably, although in Canada the gov­ern­ment of the day writes the speech, the gov­er­nor gen­eral is in­vited to con­trib­ute in­tro­duc­tory ma­te­rial deal­ing with his or her own ac­tiv­i­ties and with royal vis­its. It is un­likely such cour­tesy is ex­tended to Saint Lu­cia’s gover­nors gen­eral. The cur­rent oc­cu­pier of Gov­ern­ment House has on at least one oc­ca­sion made ad­just­ments to the speech handed her at the open­ing of par­lia­ment: in 2006 the orig­i­nal speech stated that Tai­wan and Bei­jing both op­er­ated em­bassies in New York. In truth, Tai­wan op­er­ates only a trade mis­sion there. By not par­rot­ing her pre­pared speech Dame Pear­lette saved Sir John, at­ten­dant am­bas­sadors, and the na­tion at large a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment.

The na­tion was not so lucky, how­ever, when in 1998 the gov­er­nor gen­eral Sir Ge­orge Mal­let de­liv­ered a cold read­ing of his speech writ­ten on be­half of the gov­ern­ment by a clearly over-rated pub­lic ser­vant. The House au­di­ence was aghast when Sir Ge­orge an­nounced that sev­eral al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion by the gov­ern­ment of Sir John, in which he had served as deputy prime min­is­ter for over 30 years, would be sub­jected to a com­mis­sion of in­quiry in the months ahead. (It later emerged the al­le­ga­tions were un­founded and, by some as­sess­ments, ab­so­lutely vin­dic­tive!)

The throne speech that Dame Pear­lette read at the open­ing of the first ses­sion of the eleventh par­lia­ment of Saint Lu­cia of­fered nei­ther thrills nor spills. If those who had handed him an 11-6 House key on June 6, fol­low­ing a cam­paign of just six weeks, looked for­ward to beef souf­flé, what they got on Tues­day was mainly crust— pos­si­bly be­cause the new prime min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet wished in due course to de­liver per­son­ally the miss­ing in­gre­di­ents.

Noth­ing about the speech sug­gested crow­ing in the af­ter­math of a sur­pris­ing vic­tory. In truth a prob­lem­plagued United Work­ers Party had some­how man­aged after sev­eral failed at­tempts to get its act to­gether at the last minute and dom­i­nate the June 6 polls. For the most part it was preachy-preachy, full of déjà vu and cringe-wor­thy clichés: “If we ac­cept the premise that the re­sults of a gen­eral elec­tion re­flect the free will of the peo­ple then at the end of the process there are no losers. We are all win­ners through our par­tic­i­pa­tion in this process be­cause we have demon­strated to the world we can con­tinue to con­duct our busi­ness in a man­ner which demon­strates ma­tu­rity, ci­vil­ity and mu­tual self-re­spect. We can all cel­e­brate with pride, with pas­sion, with love.” (Say that to the rab­ble that on Tues­day pre­dictably showed up in Con­sti­tu­tion Park!)

An­other slice of stale fish freshly wrapped: “Saint Lu­cia, not­with­stand­ing its size, is a very di­verse coun­try. Its di­ver­sity is re­flected not sim­ply in terms of the po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion of its ci­ti­zens but there are dif­fer­ent so­cial strata de­fined by vary­ing in­come lev­els; peo­ple live in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties where the con­di­tions dif­fer; there are youth, mid­dle-aged and el­derly per­sons, male, fe­male and many more char­ac­ter­is­tics. Our ci­ti­zens also have vary­ing as­pi­ra­tions and dif­fer­ent ob­jec­tives in their lives.

My gov­ern­ment is for all . . .”

How many times have gover­nors gen­eral, with straight faces, laid this kind of waf­fle on pa­tient Saint Lu­cian ears?

“The ul­ti­mate goals are to im­prove the de­liv­ery of pub­lic ser­vices now and in the fu­ture . . . there is so much to be done and so lit­tle re­sources with which to un­der­take them. Some tough de­ci­sions have to be made . . . On ev­ery oc­ca­sion when a new gov­ern­ment as­sumes of­fice there is much dis­cus­sion of a new ap­proach to gov­er­nance only for us to re­turn to the same old ways . . . My gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to putting in place the ap­pro­pri­ate par­lia­men­tary sub-com­mit­tees to re­view leg­is­la­tion be­fore pre­sen­ta­tion to par­lia­ment. This will pro­vide greater op­por­tu­nity for di­a­logue and for con­sen­sus on both sides of the House. We will func­tion on the ba­sis of mu­tual re­spect and with due re­gard to the con­ven­tions of par­lia­ment and our Con­sti­tu­tion. This gov­ern­ment un­der­takes to fa­cil­i­tate the of­fice of Leader of the Op­po­si­tion in play­ing its right­ful role . . . We be­lieve all par­lia­men­tar­i­ans on all sides of the House be given diplo­matic pass­ports and my gov­ern­ment will take the nec­es­sary steps to make this hap­pen.” (Will this par­tic­u­lar gen­eros­ity ex­tend to for­mer MPs? Not a word, not a word, not a word on that. But the smell of rat is in my nos­trils!)

At last the gov­er­nor gen­eral ar­rived at a mat­ter of grave con­cern to the pop­u­lace: the Con­sti­tu­tion. Dame Pear­lette promised her gov­ern­ment had “lis­tened to the voices of the peo­ple”—the same voices that a pre­vi­ous par­lia­ment had unan­i­mously de­clared off key!—“and dur­ing this ses­sion of par­lia­ment will re-open the Re­port of the Con­sti­tu­tion Re­form Com­mis­sion for pub­lic dis­cus­sion.”

“My gov­ern­ment is deeply con­cerned about the state of the jus­tice sys­tem,” the gov­er­nor gen­eral re­as­sured the na­tion, “and is con­sid­er­ing some short-term op­tions, in­clud­ing tem­po­rary lo­ca­tion of in­sti­tu­tions.”

Re­ally? The GG also touched on “a very ac­tive leg­isla­tive agenda for the new sea­son of par­lia­ment.” This last line may have been lifted whole from the GG’s 1997 throne speech.

Fi­nally, some­thing with mean­ing for the vot­ers, the pri­vate sec­tor in par­tic­u­lar: “My gov­ern­ment has com­menced steps to­ward our ob­jec­tive of first re­duc­ing the rate of the Value Added Tax in the short term, with a view to even­tu­ally elim­i­nat­ing it al­to­gether. Dis­cus­sions have been ini­ti­ated with re­gional and in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions that will help us con­duct a true as­sess­ment of the state of the fi­nances of Saint Lu­cia. It will be re­called that the Es­ti­mates of Rev­enue and Ex­pen­di­ture for the cur­rent year were tabled and passed by the out-go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion with­out pre­sen­ta­tion of the pol­icy con­sid­er­a­tions that in­formed those Es­ti­mates. My gov­ern­ment finds it nec­es­sary, there­fore, to un­der­take a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of those Es­ti­mates in or­der to de­ter­mine their re­al­ism and how they af­fect the pri­or­ity is­sues . . . It is ex­pected that my gov­ern­ment will be in a po­si­tion to an­nounce the new VAT rate be­fore the end of Oc­to­ber 2016.”

Only the last line mat­tered, al­beit it merely sig­nals an ex­pec­ta­tion that may or may not ma­te­ri­al­ize. Per­haps the prime min­is­ter will be less wishy­washy on the sub­ject!

The gov­er­nor gen­eral went on: “The mora­to­rium on the pay­ment of taxes on res­i­den­tial prop­erty will be im­ple­mented in the next fis­cal year.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Florida Caribbean Cruise As­so­ci­a­tion had “agreed to part­ner with Saint Lu­cia in the pro­vi­sion of train­ing that will re­sult in ap­prox­i­mately a thou­sand Saint Lu­cians find­ing em­ploy­ment in the cruise in­dus­try an­nu­ally for the next five years.”

Armed only with her script, GG now con­fronted the largest ele­phant in the room: “One of the most im­me­di­ate prob­lems which my gov­ern­ment must con­tend with is ad­dress­ing the sit­u­a­tion which faces our coun­try, and our po­lice force in par­tic­u­lar, aris­ing from the IMPACS re­port. The present cir­cum­stances which jeop­ar­dize our abil­ity to se­cure as­sis­tance for our un­der-re­sourced and hard­work­ing po­lice of­fi­cers are un­ten­able and can­not be al­lowed to per­sist. My gov­ern­ment pro­poses to con­front this sit­u­a­tion in the first in­stance by ap­point­ing a tri­bunal which will re­view the coro­ner’s in­quest process and out­line a road map to bring this mat­ter to a sat­is­fac­tory con­clu­sion.”

What ex­actly does the in­quest process have to do with the IMPACS re­port and its ap­par­ent aban­don­ment by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, a ma­jor fac­tor in the UWP’s elec­tion vic­tory?

In all events, the above was the of­fi­cial re­ac­tion to “one of the most im­me­di­ate prob­lems” fac­ing the gov­ern­ment. But then the gov­er­nor gen­eral seemed happy to read that “we have al­ways been at our best in times of ad­ver­sity and no mat­ter how bad things have been, we’ve al­ways emerged tri­umphant in the end.”

What would lo­cal throne speeches be with­out heart-stop­ping hy­per­bole? Con­ceiv­ably, the new prime min­is­ter will have more to say on IMPACS when the House next meets in Au­gust or Septem­ber. In the mean­time we can all spec­u­late on how much longer a na­tion can hold its breath!

Dame Pear­lette Louisy de­liv­er­ing the throne speech at the open­ing of the first ses­sion of the 11th par­lia­ment of Saint Lu­cia: She hasn’t looked as happy since 1998!

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