By: Demion McTair. Updated 1:07 a.m., Tuesday, June 23, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Kingstown, St. Vincent (ONE NEWS SVG) – A bill for an Act to authorize financing for a modern Parliament building and a new Court House was passed in Parliament on Monday (June 22).
The Modern Parliament and Modern Court House Bill will allow the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to borrow a loan from the Republic of China on Taiwan to finance the two projects and matters connected with the construction of the two buildings.
The project which involves, chiefly, the construction of the Modern Parliament Building and the Modern Court House is estimated to cost some EC$50 million dollars. The project, however, may involve construction on four buildings in total.
But, the government members and the opposition members of the house were at odds over the move.
Here are five (5) of the key arguments and counter arguments from the parliamentary debate:
1. Right time versus wrong time: The members of the New Democratic Party (NDP), argued that while the Parliament building needs to be addressed, this is not the right time to do so due to the economic situation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, the members of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), argued that there is never a right time to build, citing the arguments used to construct the Argyle International Airport during the global recession.
2. No information versus information: The opposition members, in particular, Senator Israel Bruce, a Lawyer, acknowledged the undesirable conditions of the building, especially for users of the courts. But, he argued that no official report by an expert was provided to the members of the house as to the structural status/integrity of the current building, information which could be used to give a clear justification for the move to reconstruct at this time.
In response, the government members, particularly Senator Julian Francis, who is Minister of Transport and Works, argued that in ministerial statements he made in parliament more than a year ago, the status of the building was given.
Senator Bruce responded with sarcasm, saying he didn’t know Senator Francis was an expert.
Other ministers, including leader of the house, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Louis Straker decried the poor conditions parliamentarians and judges have to endure by operating in the building that is falling apart.
3. Benefit to the Economy versus No benefit to the economy at this time: Opposition members, including opposition leader, Dr. Godwin Friday downplayed the economic contribution the buildings can bring at this time when the economy is adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
In response, the government members, including Senator Julian Francis and Minister Camillo Gonsalves argued that the construction projects can put some 400 Vincentians to work, triggering “infrastructural stimulus”.
4. Money can go to other things versus money needs to go to the project: Opposition members argued that the more than EC$50 million can be put to other things such as creating jobs and opportunities for young people in different sectors of the economy.
In response, the government members argued that many other things are happening in the economy including the benefits to Vincentians with the recently implemented stimulus measures. They also argued that other loans were sought during the period for construction of roads and footpaths to which they said the opposition did not argue against.
5. No dent on government revenues versus people have to repay: Members of the government argued that there will be no dip in the revenues of the country to finance the projects since a loan financing agreement from Taiwan is the approach taken. The loan will have a 3-year grace period before payment is required to commence.
In response, the opposition members argued that whether now or three years down the road, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have to repay the loan and adding another loan at a time like this is not the best move.
Those are five of the key arguments and counter arguments captured in the parliamentary debate on the Modern Parliament and Modern Court House bill.