It is important that when government ministers and representatives of the ruling party make their presentations during the Budget debates that they do not just stick to the script, but also ensure that the script is well prepared.
The opening presentation from the government side was below par, way below par, and simply will not suffice, considering the strong presentation made from the AFC bench as the Budget debates kicked off.
It was obvious from listening to the presentation of the Honourable Minister of Housing and Water that better preparation and delivery will be needed if the government is going to be able to counter the AFC.
It is not good enough for those on the government side to simply stand up and make points. They have to assemble an argument.
It is also advisable that individual presenters stick to a few areas. The fact that one person in particular was addressing all manner of issues which fell under the portfolio of other ministers suggests that not only was there a need for better preparation, but also improved coordination.
There should have thus been a general meeting of the members of the government, and a clear strategy should have been designed to determine how best to sell this Budget and how to negate the arguments that are likely to be made.
The Budget debates are also important in that they provide the opportunity to go beyond the numbers. They allow the various representatives on the government side to deal with the policies and plans for the year, so that everyone has a clear understanding of what to expect this year.
The Budget debate provides the ruling party with an opportunity to give some of its backbenchers a chance to address the House. Many of them never get the chance to speak in the National Assembly, and therefore the Budget debates allow for the blooding of new talent.
There has obviously to be a time limit as to how long one person can speak. In this regard, the government is now at a major disadvantage in these debates. In the absence of a parliamentary majority, their time is going to be limited. They should not expect from the opposition, the same courtesies that were extended when the PPP had a majority. In that period, the ruling party was always willing to allow an opposition speaker additional time to wind up his or her presentation.
The opposition side of the House has demonstrated that it can be ruthless. And, therefore, the government speakers may not have the liberty of being granted extensions to speak. This is something that they may not have catered for, and another reason why the presentations should have been carefully planned.
It is thus important that the government side not waste any time on political grandstanding. They do not have that liberty. They should make their presentations short, forceful, and to the point. They should prepare their arguments in such a way that it will be persuasive when presented.
What may look good on paper does not always sound good when presented – already there has been one presentation where a government representative has been jumping from one issue to the next: from the GPL subsidy to social assistance to the one laptop per family project. This is exactly the sort of wide sweep that will take away from detailing specific sector policies.
The government therefore needs to get its act together, otherwise it is going to be embarrassed, not only because of the haphazard nature of the presentations, but also by the poor elocution of the presenters.
There is no need, when in the National Assembly, for speakers to be shouting as if they are on a political platform. There is a need for modulation to ensure a modest tone.
The other disturbing feature is that there have been instances where the Speaker has been trying to urge members to allow the person who has the floor to speak. While the Speaker was intervening, there were persons still heckling. This is not in keeping with parliamentary decorum. The rule is that when the Speaker speaks everyone should be silent.
In the days ahead, it is important that the government outline its policies for the year. The respective MPs must tell the Guyanese people what each ministry will do and how this will help the people. They must explain their plans to the Guyanese people as well as what they have done over the past year.
The opposition parties are going to have a field day against the government unless the government side gets its act together and begins to better coordinate presentations.
The government side no longer has in its ranks those parliamentary veterans who were experienced in parliamentary debates. Those veterans took their presentations seriously because they understood one thing: whatever is said in parliament becomes part of the official record of parliament, which will be there for future generations to scrutinize.
All the more reason why there should be better preparation on the government side, and why they should choose their words carefully, because when future researchers go through the Hansard, they must feel that they are examining the words of learned men and women.