Cooks Opposition Objects To Appropriations Bill For 2016-17

MP questions timing of introduction of bill; ‘slippage’ in capital improvement projects from previous year

By Rashneel Kumar

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 14, 2016) – The Opposition is opposing the second reading of the Appropriation Bill 2016 which was presented to Parliament by Minister of Finance Mark Brown last week.

Member of Parliament (MP) for Murienua James Beer said they do not agree with the current form of the bill, which is the budget appropriation for the 2016/17 financial year.

He said their concerns were based on two issues, the first being the timing of the tabling of the bill.

Beer said in presenting the Appropriation Bill before the start of the new financial year, the gov-ernment had violated section 33 of the MFEM Act.

The MFEM Act states: “Except as otherwise provided by a resolution of the Parliament, the first Appropriation Bill relating to a financial year shall be introduced into the Parliament before the end of the first month after the commencement of that financial year.”

Beer said with the financial year ending June 30, the bill should have been tabled for debate in parliament next month.

This would have allowed the government to present actual figures, not estimates, for the previ-ous financial year, to allow transparent and robust debate on the proposed budget for 2016/17.

“The provisions of the government are to ensure a robust debate and (to ensure) that we are clear about what the spendings are and that MPs are making informed decisions. That is unlike the current system that we have been seeing for the last three to four years, where we have been dealing with estimates rather than actuals.

“This is the worrying part because right now as of this month, we will have essentially four years of unaudited Crown accounts.

“That means the stuff that the government is talking about, we don’t know for sure whether it has been done. The question is, who independently is going to have oversight for this if it hasn’t been audited and that should be a very serious concern.”

The second issue raised by Beer was a scenario in the Appropriation Bill which he said stated there were “slippages” in capital projects planned for the financial year.

He questioned the government on how much revenue was being lost due to these “slippages.”

“MFEM is saying ‘look we got all these big capital projects and lot of our revenue is generated from VAT and PAYE from contractors’ wages and spending from contractors and people that in-volved in the capital project’.

“But what the government is saying is that there is a lot of slippage in projects not being done.

“So the question is, if we have become a country that is so focused on capital projects, how much revenue which they have estimated would not be available as a result of the ‘slippage’. The answer is that they don’t know.”

Beer also claimed there was a lot of unauthorised spending under the Cook Islands Party gov-ernment, adding that provisions which allowed the government to spend money within the finan-cial year in case of an emergency were being abused.

“It’s all about transparency and we want the government to come out clear on these issues.”

Cook Islands News
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