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Senate Debates the Finance and Audit Reform Amendment Bill

Also in the Senate today, there was debate on the Finance and Audit Reform Amendment Bill. Leader of Government Business, Senator Eamon Courtenay explained that it was to provide for the establishment of a Contingencies Fund to be used in emergency situations.

Eamon Courtenay, Government Senator“Madam President the Financial Secretary has told the senators that what has happened and has always happened is one, no contingencies fund has ever been created by the government and funded as required by the constitution and therefore when a hurricane hits, there’s a flood, there is COVID or any other unforeseen emergencies the government has to go to existing budget lines and to withdraw money from there and then bring a supplementary. What we seek to do is in order to comply with the constitutional mandate is to create  the contingencies fund which will then have a line in the budget therefore when an emergency hits which is unforeseen there will be funds already appropriated by parliament for that purpose which can only be withdrawn by a warrant by the minister and if the conditions set out in the third schedule are satisfied. It’s important for the Senate to know that the monies can only be withdrawn if such monies may be appropriated for the purpose is for a public emergency under section 18 of the constitution, any other urgent and unforeseen expenditure, grants or loans to government for public emergencies, disaster management and relief and other similar matters and any other monies. Madam President we are in the hurricane season we have seen the effect of Hurricane Elsa already and this fund is needed in order that we can have access to monies in the event we are hit by a storm or any hurricane.”

However, Senator Darrell Bradley says that while he understands the need for such a fund, he had concerns over the fact there was not a limit on spending.

Darrell Bradley, Opposition Senator: “The comment that I would make here is that in principle I don’t have a difficulty with a contingencies fund, it’s mentioned in the constitution and prudence dictates that we plan. However I would only say that the checks and balances require certain things. One thing that I would want to see is this contingency fund has certain benchmarks like the existing Finance and Audit Reform Act that gives a limit. So what we’re talking about in this contingencies fund is an unlimited amount of money and you’re setting this up as a parallel to the Consolidated Revenues Fund. I do not doubt the government’s sincerity in relation to setting this fund up and the need for planning but spending that is not controlled by the checks and balances of the Consolidated Revenue Fund in my view with respect to the government would be somewhat dangerous. There are no existing limitations in this bill that would address the concerns that are addressed when a person spends from the Consolidated Revenue Fund including when they spend from the emergency provisions under Section 5 of the Finance and Audit Reform Act when you make a special warrant for emergencies there are benchmarks in there, it cannot be over $500,000 or 10% of that line item in the budget. This proposed amendment has no such limitations so the idea there is that we could have a contingency fund that parallels the budget, the contingency fund could be a billion dollars, the contingency fund could be so much more.”