Will to change?

As is customary, the Legislative Assembly approved in its first reading the budget for 2016. That document is a fundamental pillar of the administration’s activity and a frame of reference for society and the economy. Its discussion in the Legislative Assembly leaves often, if not always, the impression that such an important legal, political and financial document would justify and deserve a deeper, more detailed discussion. Following that approval in the Plenary Session, the Budget was sent to the 2nd Permanent Commission for the usual analysis and comments. The legislators will discuss the Commission’s report tomorrow, and no surprises are expected. It will be approved, paving the way for the start of another budget execution cycle in a couple of weeks. These types documents are never (or anywhere) known for their literary merits. The topics and issues they deal with are unlikely to ever be rated as the most exciting reading in the world. They are, almost by definition, gray documents. But the budget is a fundamental pillar of the administration’s activity and its discussion should be one of the highlights of the legislative year. However, for anyone who makes the effort it is difficult to read the report without some general reservations popping out. First, for clarity, the report could be more focused and probably shorter. It uses extensive quotations from the documents submitted by the government blended with lots of descriptive information taken from the budget. Many pages, especially in the introduction, repeat loads of information in those documents; in fact, duplicating many figures and statements. It is not always clear what their relevance or relationship to the analysis or comments made subsequently in the report are. Then, two less formal and more substantive issues would deserve a more resolute approach by the Legislative Assembly. On the one hand, the Legislative Assembly complains about the limited time – ‘only 8 working days’ – available for the Commission’s analysis and reporting. On the other hand, it points out, as diplomatically as possible, the assumptions under which revenue and expenses estimates were determined are not ‘fully known’. That period is certainly more than just ‘relatively short’ for a proper appreciation of the Budget proposal. One cannot disagree with that. And if the underlying assumptions of the anticipated revenues and expenditures are not known, how far in the appreciation can one actually go? Both are serious reservations, and they can be seen as somewhat demeaning for the status of the Assembly. They are, one might think, worthy of serious attention and, possibly, forceful remedial actions. But then another, slightly perplexing question becomes inevitable. If the Assembly feels it is denied the timing and depth of information required to carry a reasoned judgment, isn’t it in its powers to do something about it? All it does is ‘to hope that in the future the government will submit the documents timely’. That seems too bland, and does not appear to help consolidate the Assembly’s prestige.