By Gary Hatigeva
“IRRESPONSIBLE fiscal management is fiscal mismanagement. The irresponsible fiscal management is the result of irresponsible government. The irresponsible government is the direct result of poor and irresponsible leadership.”
These were strong sentiments from the Chairman of the Bills and Legislative Committee and Independent Member of Parliament for Aoke/Langalanga, Matthew Wale who emphasised this when contributing to the debates of the Appropriation Bill 2018 in Parliament yesterday.
In his over two hours speech, the outspoken Independent MP accused the government for what he said was a misleading approach from their part to the people regarding its budget, which the MP also described as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘messy’.
Mr Wale said the situation the country is going through in terms of its status is what he termed as fiscal austerity.
Wale said the austerity is a response to government’s cash flow crisis and that the cash flow crisis is a result of irresponsible fiscal management.
“That is the chain of events that led to and have culminated in the 2018 Appropriation Bill 2018. And those responsible should be ashamed of themselves.
“And such shame is self-inflicted, from years of consistent poor decision making,” Wale said.
He said the Permanent Secretary Finance when appearing before the Public Accounts Committee during the scrutiny procession of the budget, rejected claims that the officials have mismanaged the treasury resulting in the cash flow crisis.
He added that although officials have a duty of care to the nation to give even unpopular advice to political masters, the PS was mostly right, in that the officials have merely carried out the poor decisions of the political leadership.
“We are in a terrible cash situation, and it is a direct result of mismanagement. The cash crisis did not just come upon us on its own. Somebody was doing the mismanaging.
“Officials bear the blame to the extent they did not giving prudent advice. But the buck stops at the top with political leadership,” he said.
He further added that there seems to be general agreement that the Solomon Islands economy has been doing relatively well.
“Economic growth figures for 2015, 2016 and 2017 point to steady growth, even if sustainability of that growth ought to be of major concern to us.
“GDP is projected to grow by 3.5 percent for 2018 and that growth is driven by activity in agriculture, fisheries, construction, manufacturing, and services including retail and wholesale.
“This narrative is consistent from 2015, 2016 and 2017. Interestingly, if you look at the budget speeches for those three prior years, you will notice that it is word for word exactly the same and the economy seems to be doing much better than the government’s fiscal management,” Wale noted.
He however questioned that if the economy is doing relatively and consistently well, why is the government doing so badly?
“Again, it comes down to poor decision making by the leadership. Leadership decision making is an issue that we must explore if we want to learn from our mistakes,” he added.
He further noted that the budget speeches of 2015, 2016 & 2017 all contain statements like, “efficient and effective delivery”, “key priorities”, “focus”, “strategic”, “output/outcome budgeting”, “credible budget” “stable fiscal policy”, “responsible budget”, “refocusing”, “pipelining”, “properly scoped designed and costed”, “scarce resources allocated to priorities”.
But he further questioned why the budget speeches for the past four years including 2018, were filled with a lot of good statements, but the result is such a mess.
“And these same words and phrases have been used by the minister in this budget. Can they really be true? Can they mean the same thing from year to year – 2015 to 2018?”
Wale however suggested that the government should have to experience a cash flow crisis and evident mess in the budget, if it does the right thing on all its matters in relation to the budget and economy as a whole.