New parliamentary year begins todayThursday, February 18, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
PARLIAMENT resumes today with the conventional ceremonial opening at Gordon House highlighted by the annual throne speech from the governor general in the morning and the tabling of the annual estimates of expenditure by the Government in the afternoon.
The throne speech from Governor General Sir Patrick Allen will summarise the 2021/22 budget, including details of recurrent and capital expenditures expected for the fiscal year, which commences on April 1.
The budget has been tabled in February during the last few years as part of an agreement with the International Monetary (IMF) which requires that the processing of the estimates and the eventual budget debate be completed before the current fiscal year ends on March 31.
The Government last February presented a budget for $852.7 billion, with $778.4 billion for recurrent (housekeeping) expenses and $74.2 billion for capital (development) projects. However, with the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the negative effect it has had on the economy during 2020, threatening several fiscal targets, including ratio debt and balance of payment projections, and an unusual three supplementary estimates, which were tabled during the fiscal year, slashing spending by at least $3.5 billion.
Today's events will commence with Sir Patrick saluting the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Honour Guard on Duke Street, before entering Gordon House to deliver the throne speech.
Normally, there would have been crowds of supporters at the Duke Street end of the Parliament to wave on the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) parliamentarians, including Members of Parliament and senators, coming from the north and People's National Party (PNP) parliamentarians from the south.
However, Gordon House has decided otherwise, in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In a release earlier this week, the home of the Parliament reported that physical access to the ceremony by members of the public will be restricted, and people were encouraged to follow the proceedings which will be broadcast live on local television, including the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica ( PBCJ) and the Internet.
According to House Leader Edmund Bartlett, the restrictions are necessary, given the country's current COVID-19 situation.
“As parliamentarians, it is our duty to demonstrate to our fellow Jamaicans that we should do everything possible to prevent the contraction and spread of the COVID-19 virus, and if we can do this for as important an occasion as the ceremonial opening of Parliament, there is no excuse for any Jamaican to ignore the Ministry of Health and Wellness's COVID-19 guidelines,” Bartlett said.
Other measures which are being implemented include reducing the number of parliamentarians attending the ceremony from 84 to 59 and increasing the number of sanitisation stations at the entrance to Gordon Houses. The traditional “march to Gordon House” will be COVID-19 compliant as well. Members of Parliament will approach Gordon House in single file, undertake the necessary sanitisation procedures at the entrance of the building before entering the chamber.
However, the protocols will be much less restrictive when the House of Representatives resumes at 2:00 pm, to allow Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke to table the estimates. A few parliamentary procedures will also be addressed.