The Tuesday Night House Miracle!
It was pushing past 11pm on Tuesday when a very tired House of Assembly, after a day of heavy debate, the usual hurling of insults, politicians accusing one another of every sin under the sun, and a historymaking Speaker of the House heard a proposed Bill from Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, named The Public Finance Management Bill, that sought to address gaps in the Finance (Administration) Act and achieve compliance with the standards set by the IMF, OECD and Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA).
In his introduction the PM said: “Most importantly, it is the hope that incorporating these fundamentals, which have now become widely accepted as basic PFM requirements, allows the Department of Finance the necessary latitude to institute procedures aimed at achieving fiscal discipline which have the backing of the law. The PFM laws impose constraints on undesirable fiscal behaviour in respect of public money, and they can promote reforms by mandating certain fiscal actions. The PFM laws also seek to improve transparency and accountability of the government’s financial management.”
After the disturbing displays that had transpired earlier in the day involving the representatives of East and South Castries and Anse la Raye-Canaries, not to mention the apparent inability of the Speaker to rein in offending MPs, the last thing anyone expected was harmony. However, as Vieux Fort South MP Kenny Anthony began to lay out some points as to why he objected to the passing of the Bill, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet cut him short. But only to say they were on the occasion both singing from the same sheet.
Said Prime Minister Chastanet: “I concur with the Member from Vieux Fort South. This is a very, very important piece of legislation. It is late [after 11 pm] and given that there are so many potential contentious points I think it is worthwhile for us to suspend the continuation of this matter. I would love to get some points from the Honourable Member so I can make this available to the Attorney General in the hope that we can work something out. Or have this go to committee stage and try to have a discussion.”
Chastanet added: “There is no way my government is attempting to ram this down the throats of anybody and I agree with him wholeheartedly that this is a very, very important piece of legislation. I thought the fact that it had been out there meant that we would have had a better discussion on it; that is my misinterpretation of it and I am very grateful to him for bringing it up and, with his consent, I would like to suggest that we suspend the debate on this and put it at a time when we can spend more time on it and maybe have it as a singular item in a parliamentary session because, as he says, it is extremely important.”
The Member for Vieux Fort South welcomed the Prime Minister’s words and latched on to the suggestion that a committee comprising the opposition and the government, as well as technocrats from the various ministries, be set up to review the Bill.
In his own turn Kenny Anthony said: “Madam Speaker, I welcome the suggestion that the sitting be suspended to review this Bill but I just want to latch on to a suggestion by the Honourable Member. I know that other colleagues of mine have issues with the legislation. I think it is very important, as you rightly said, that there be consensus on both sides because this is a very serious piece of legislation with major implications. If I may, I want to suggest that we take the opportunity, as we did with the Public Procurement Bill: let us put a committee; three on the government side, two on the opposition side, with the technocrats from the ministry, and in the course of the next few days share our perspectives and come back and complete the debate.”
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet (left) and former leader of the Opposition, Dr Kenny Anthony.