But once the motion was filed, and the opposition parliamentarians from PAM and CCM demanded that it be given urgent attention for debate and vote, the ruling party argued that “the budget must come first”. At the time the government commanded an obvious majority of seven elected representatives and two senators but was under great pressure to hear the motion. The fact that the Prime minister was uncertain about the votes of two of his colleagues, also added to the mounting pressure and further instilled fear that the government would fall, if the vote was taken on the motion. Only the 11 elected representatives would have been eligible to vote.
The budget, though it came months later than scheduled, was indeed allowed to be brought, largely due to the compromise of the opposition. Now, one year after, another budget is on its way and still, after almost 365 days, no motion has been brought to the floor of the parliament.
It is not known exactly would be the posture of the opposition this time, but they have in the recent past taken a position that they would not go to parliament to give legitimacy to what they have been referring to as an “illegal and illegitimate Prime Minister and Government”. Their boycott of the upcoming Budget Debate therefore is to be expected.
Back in 2012, the threat, mainly from PAM was to deny the government any opportunity to pass a budget so that they may not gain access to millions of dollars that could be used to prepare for any potential election resulting from a motion of no confidence that succeeded. The chances of success at the time was still questionable because then both Dr. Timothy Harris and Sam Condor remained members of the Douglas Administration and Cabinet. However, one year after, both former ministers are now part of a united opposition that is targeting to remove the incumbent via the same motion of no confidence.
It has been made clear however, in words and action, by Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, that he has no intention of allowing the Speaker to hear the motion. His focus now, it seems, is on the proposed changes to the existing constituency boundaries, as a key strategy to regain power, following the next elections; and maybe then he would entertain the motion.
In politics and government and under the constitutional system that guides the country there really are four ways to remove a Prime Minister or Government. The first of course is through new elections and the failure of the incumbent to secure a majority of parliamentary seats. The second is if he/she dies in office, which no country ever really hopes for.
The third is through a motion of no confidence, such as the one filed by Opposition Leader Mark Brantley last year, on behalf of his colleagues on the opposition benches. If a motion succeeds then the prime minister must resign within three days. If he fails, the Governor General has a legal and constitutional duty to terminate him with immediate effect, and cause the parliament to be dissolved ahead of fresh elections.
But the sitting prime minister could also invite the Head of State to dissolve parliament for new elections. None of these ever materialized last year and still have not; despite months of protest and agitation.
And the fourth and perhaps least known method of causing any government to fall, is to defeat its budget. Any government that is unable to pass a budget cannot continue in office for much longer. The budget provides the legal framework for government to tax its citizens and more importantly to spend such taxes for any purpose. A government without money cannot survive.
So perhaps PAM and CCM may have been right in their early strategy last year, when they seemed to be on track to prevent the passage of the budget. There is a view that since the opposition felt that its chances of winning the motion were strong, then equally there ought to have been the conviction and confidence that it could have swung enough votes to stop the budget. Had that been the case, there would have been no further need for the motion of no confidence and the desired results of fresh elections would have been secured.
In 2012, there were 14 members of parliament; 11 elected representatives and 3 senators. All can vote on the budget, for which a simple majority (8) is required. Therefore, had the five opposition members at the time, won the support of their two newest colleagues, Condor and Harris, they would have taken their vote tally to seven (7); creating a tie with the government’s own tally, also of seven. Thus the budget would not have passed and the government would have fallen.
Unfortunately, with Budget Day fast approaching on 10th December, 2013, that strategy is no longer plausible because the Government has since added one more vote to its tally, when it asked Patrice Nisbett to step aside as Attorney General, and appointed Jason Hamilton in the post.
Ironically, though the prime minister will lay the Estimates for fiscal year 2014 on the Table on 10th December, when he presents his Address, the actual start of the budget debate will be on 11th December, the anniversary date of the filing of last year’s motion of no confidence.