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Senators sceptical about $10B increase in borrowing ceiling

While Finance Minister Colm Imbert defended Government’s need to increase its borrowing limit by a further $10 billion, some opposition and independent senators were not easily convinced.

The increase in the borrowing limit of the Development Loans Act was passed in Parliament on Friday.

However, debating the motion in the Upper House yesterday, Opposition Senator Wade Mark condemned Government for wanting an increase from a $65B to $75B borrowing ceiling, as he questioned Imbert’s justification for the additional funds.

While Imbert said the increase in the borrowing limit under the Development Loans Act was primarily for domestic development spending, Mark said the lack of transparency in stating the types of programmes and projects the money will be used for, was something he could not support.

According to Mark, in eight and a half years, this was the fourth time Government proposed an increase in the borrowing ceiling, yet it could not tell citizens how the additional money will be spent.

Mark said, “Under no circumstances, the alternative government, the incoming government could ever support that motion that is before us. It is reckless. It is irresponsible. It is dangerous. It is troubling. It is disturbing for us to support that.

“What are you using it for? I don’t want our money to be used to establish death squads. $300M in the last budget was used as a supplementation to bump up the SSA (Strategic Services Agency). Now we are hearing the SSA has a death squad, a mongoose gang, a ton ton macoute (a Haitian paramilitary and secret police force) and they are killing people in the country. So, that is what you’re asking me to approve? To give the SSA more money to kill more peoplIndependent Senator Sunity Maharaj said requesting an additional $10B was a huge ask of the public’s purse.

In addition to failing to be transparent about how the money will be spent, she said Government also failed to explain how the money will be repaid.

She said the importance of knowing if the money would be allocated to development spending raised concerns since the country imported many items, so choosing to invest in the domestic market did not necessarily equate to profit circulating locally.  

Maharaj said, “The minister failed to meet the standard for public transparency on a very important issue … It’s a huge ask of the public’s purse and therefore I think at the very least, the public deserves the respect he would give to any investor, any borrower, anywhere in the world. We need details. We need clarity. We need to be convinced that money borrowed under the Development Loans Act is truly about development.

“This is not vex money that you put aside. You have a few dollars in your pocket and you say, ‘In case something goes wrong, I can jump in my taxi and go home.’ This is $10B that is going to be on the books for us, for every tax-paying citizen in this country and for your children, and therefore we deserve the respect … We deserve not to be snowed over with easy talk. This is the country’s business and it is the public’s money, so for those reasons, I cannot support this. It will pass, no doubt, but that will have to be my position,” she added.

Meanwhile, Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ayhe sought to find a balance between both arguments for and against the motion to increase the borrowing ceiling yesterday.  

While Thompson-Ayhe noted the importance of living within one’s means, she said there are times when Government should be trusted if it means it will benefit citizens.  

While accepting Imbert’s defence that the country’s economy was improving, she said Government should always be held accountable if things go awry.

She said, “We realise that this is necessary. The Government is not saying, ‘We need all this money now.’ But, what the Government is saying ‘We want to have the facility that when we need it, we don’t have to come back to the Parliament every day.’ So, we understand the position and there are times when we feel like we have to trust the word of the Government, but yet we must always be vigilant and hold the Government to account when we see things going awry.”      

Independent Senator Dr Paul Richards also said he does not believe, in principle, anyone has a problem with Government borrowing money as some fiscal measures will have to continue to move the country back to pre-pandemic levels.

But, he said, it was very important for Government to identify if the additional funds will be used to continue past projects or new projects.

In his view, these past government projects are not emergency projects but rather projects that were either already accommodated for or should have been accommodated for in fiscal package 2024.

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