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Prime Minister Skerrit, with Government Band in the background, goes to parliament to deliver the 2018/ 2019 national budget
Prime Minister Skerrit, with Government Band in the background, goes to parliament to deliver the 2018/ 2019 national budget

The signs are in the numbers. Consider the number 348.59. It's the size of the increase in this year's budget for elections.

"What would that be for?" Athie Martin, the environmentalist, government critic and former minister of agriculture, asked.

When prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit presents the budget for the 2018/2019 fiscal year, he will indicate that $1.742,975 has been allocated to elections, according to the budget document made available to the media.

It represents a 348.59 per cent increase in allocations from 2017, when only $500,000 was allocated, a 0.9 per cent rise at the time.

"It could be for the [voter] verification process, or it could be to provide a sense of comfort to be in the budget, but even if it's in the budget, is it available?

"That [the increase] would send a signal that you are going to have a national election, but whether that accommodates the cost of the voter verification process, which was supposed to begin a few weeks ago, the preparation of voter identification, [or simply placing it in the budget but not providing the funds and engage in] the very old strategy of letting things go by, and then say 'we don't have time and we must have an election' [is left to be seen]," Martin told The Sun.

Skerrit will on Wednesday present a $978 million budget, $60 million more than last year's $918 million. Just under $524 million of this year's financial package is recurrent expenditure and just over $454 million is for capital expenditure.

There are signs in the numbers of plans for a massive recovery effort in the post Hurricane Maria era, with the ministry of public works, water resources and ports being allocated $188 million, the largest chunk of the monetary package, while the ministry of finance is being assigned $176.7 million. Other major recipients are the ministry of housing and lands ($85.8 million), the ministry of education and human resource development ($75.5 million) and the ministry of health and social services ($71.6 million). The ministry of tourism and culture is being allocated $19 million.

Asked if he anticipates an election budget, Thomas Letang, the general secretary of the Dominica Public Service Union, had a hearty laugh.

"Well boy, I really have not given that any thought, but nothing can be ruled out. We cannot rule out anything at this time," he told The Sun. "Honestly, I'm not ruling out anything."

Martin, on the other hand, is seeing signs of preparations for a pending election, not necessarily an early one.

"Only halfway because there are other considerations that would impinge on a date for elections," he said, explaining that an election budget in July would make sense if Skerrit were planning a December poll, "but the final determination would have to do with how they perceive the effect of the relief effort on the population".

And, as far as he is concerned, the relief efforts are not going too well for the administration, therefore, the prime minister won't be comfortable going into an election with things the way they are and would prefer to use this budget to reassure voters of the recovery process "which, eventually, is the only thing they can call the election on.

"But I don't think they will go directly with an election budget because things have collapsed in the past couple months and they have to fix those things. They cannot contest an election on the recovery effort as it is now. They have to do some repair work, so this budget will be some repair work," Martin suggests.

For Barbadian political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham, the signs are not as clear, as he surmises that things might be clouded by the weather.

"It's all about how the weather holds up," Wickham said in an interview from Salzburg, France. "Frankly, another storm could be the determining factor."

In any event, an early election would come as a surprise, he said, not because an early poll is impossible, "but because I don't know that he has the fiscal space with the hurricane recovery and the other natural disasters [such as Tropical Storm Erika] that he has had to contend with".


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