COOKS LAWMAKERS RUSH TO APPROVE BUDGET

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Keen interest in finding date for general elections

By Helen Greig RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Aug. 13, 2010) – Parliament is likely to guillotine debate on the 2010-11 Budget in the same way it did to approve the amendments to last year’s annual Budget yesterday.

The supplementary budget, which reduced the $215.5 million budget to $186.4 million, went through a name change and was amended before being passed after just three days in the committee of supply. Standing order 307 of Parliament allows 10 days for budgets to be debated in the committee of supply but it is rare for talks to ever last that long.

Yesterday Parliament agreed to suspend standing order 307 to enable the bill to be read for the third time and passed.

The Appropriation Amendment and Validation Act made changes to last year’s budget to account for the removal of the $37.5 million China soft loan for infrastructure and add in $3.5 million worth of Toagate related expenses, funding for the cyclone relief efforts for Aitutaki and Penrhyn and increased welfare benefit payments.

The $157.6 million annual budget for 2010-11 will be passed by early next week.

The budgets are being rushed to allow government to announce the date when Parliament will be dissolved and when the election will be held.

Further talks between government and the Opposition were held yesterday on just when the election will be called. Government is now leaning towards dissolving parliament in September and holding an election mid-November. The election is likely to be held 60 days after the dissolution of Parliament, instead of the usual three month lead up following the expiration of the term of government. The current four year term will expire on September 26.

The suggestion of October 27 as a date for the snap election is now seen as less likely because it is the day after the public holiday for National Gospel Day.

Opposition MP Norman George told Parliament he thought Prime Minister Jim Marurai would be announcing the election date yesterday.

Finance Minister Wilkie Rasmussen told Parliament during his budget speech that passing the bill was important given the pending election.

He said many people had become disillusioned with performance of MPs and were ‘questioning our collective capacity to work in their best interests’.

Rasmussen said without a Parliament sitting this year until now, the MPs are also the subject of more public scrutiny.

He thanked the MPs for agreeing with the move to cut short debate on the budget bills to enable the release of government funding and for the election to be held.

Parliament adjourned following Rasmussen’s budget speech at 4.30pm after just three hours of sitting. It resumes meeting from 1pm today.

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