We have just completed the 2021/22 Budget Debate. This debate is often referred to as the Opposition’s Debate, because it is the Opposition that determines the Ministries that will be debated, and the corresponding hours for debate. The Budget process has become quite onerous as, during the debates of the selected heads, the ministers, often times do not leave enough time for the Opposition Shadow to ask questions as to how the public purse is being managed. Unfortunately, there is an element of filibustering, particularly within those ministries that may be deemed to be controversial and/or where the minister does not want to address or respond to probing questions. This is unfair to the taxpayers – the people who must be aware of how responsibly the Government is managing the public purse.
I humbly submit that the Budget debate process should be re-organised in a way that ensures the ultimate display of transparency and accountability to the public. It is time for a proper debate, and the respective Ministers should not be allowed to filibuster away time to avoid the discomfort of being under the microscope and answering probing questions.
As a means of streamlining the process, and in light of the fact that each Minister reads his or her ministerial brief in the House before it gets to the Senate, it is proposed that the Opposition Senators submit questions to their Government counterparts in advance. This would permit the respective Government counterparts the ability to seek the answer and replies from the Technical Officers early on, which is a time saving initiative in and of itself. The questions and corresponding answers would then form the basis of the debate while allowing time for additional questions, if needed.
It was hoped that we could pilot test this new process during this year’s Budget session, but there was not enough time for effective implementation. Accordingly, the Budget debate in the Senate for 2021/22 will be along the same lines as it has been for many years, to the detriment of all those who value transparency and accountability in Government.