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National Assembly

Supplementary budget exceeding R1 billion gets unanimous yes | 11 December 2020

The National Assembly yesterday approved the supplementary estimate of R1,139,732,490 for the year 2020, laid before the assembly by leader of government business Bernard Georges, in accordance with S154 (6) (b) of the Constitution.

The supplementary budget was approved by 27 votes in favour.

In introducing the supplementary appropriation, Honourable Georges who explained that government can at any moment lay before assembly supplementary estimates if the assembly has already approved the annual budget, in consideration that all expenses are dynamic, and cannot always remain within the parameters of an approved budget.

Supplementary appropriations are permissible by the Constitution, in two circumstances; firstly, when government anticipates that it will exceed the approved budget, and it seeks permission to make the supplementary expenses as per S 154, while S 154 6 (b) applies when the government has already made the expense and it then comes to the National Assembly to ratify the expenditure.

Hon. Georges went on to note that the supplementary budget tabled before the assembly is somewhat “special” on account of the economic implications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It must be noted that the approved 2020 budget was later amended, with a supplementary provision of about R1.2 billion to mitigate the impacts of the economic recession brought on by the unforeseen pandemic. Despite the amendments, there has been a lot of other unforeseen expenses under the previous administration, added Hon. Georges, provided for by the supplementary appropriation.

Minister for Finance, Economic Planning and Trade, Naadir Hassan, joined by principal secretary for Finance Damien Thésée, assisted the sitting to shed light on the different expenditure.

The supplementary appropriation provides for three categories of payments, including Covid-19 related payments such as social programmes and subsidies to business organisations and other expenses including student allowances which have increased significantly due to the spike in the foreign exchange rate.

A good number of members intervened, picking at the largest expenditures and seeking reassurance from Minister Hassan of government’s commitment towards addressing the gaps and shortfalls within MDAs.

Members were particularly interested in the financial assistance for safety net schemes, job retention (FA4JR) expenditure, the functions and roles of certain public entities such as the Islands Development Company (IDC) as well as the expenses of others including the Public Utilities Corporation (PUC), and savings made by various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

“As we prepare the 2021 budget, and as I mentioned before, 2021 will be a tough year, so, government needs to be more effective in service delivery and we will need to intensify the exercise to better manage government costs. So as we prepare the budget, the emphasis is on how to cut back on wastage, abuse, so this is a priority,” Minister Hassan said.

“When government is reducing its cost, it is not only up to government, but it is also up to state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and all other governmental agencies. This is a job that the PS is undertaking to create the mindset that it is not business as usual, we are in a crisis, and all governmental entities, be it under central government or parastatal, have to have that realisation that we all need to cut back our expenditure. This message has been communicated to all the line ministries, under which the agencies fall, as well as with the agencies. It is here that the Public Enterprise Monitoring Commission (PEMC) comes in. We have to also ensure that PEMC has teeth, as in the past, there have been situations whereby certain entities ignore PEMC and do as they please. We all need to realise that we are in the same boat and faced with the same problem, so we all need to make a sacrifice,” Minister Hassan asserted.

In response to queries about capital expenditure, Minister Hassan proposed that a committee be established to evaluate the cost of capital projects, on account of significantly disproportionate project cost estimates as compared to project costs.

Despite intense debates and political wit, most members afforded the supplementary budget their support, albeit with differing views as to why they support the supplementary budget.

 

Laura Pillay

 

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