By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
The National Democratic Party administration is being challenged to reverse what is being described as a troubling trend, whereby Government has been increasing the territory’s budget by several millions annually, though reducing services to communities.
Opposition legislator Julian Fraser raised concern in the House of Assembly during his contribution to the budget debate this morning, February 23, adding that the trend has developed over the past six years.
“In the face of significantly more resources, what we are seeing is a decline so to speak in services – a difficulty to explain why the services are being reduced,” Fraser lamented.
“I don’t know where the trend came from, who started it, why it is being followed – I don’t know. But it is a trend that has to be reversed. It needs to be looked at and examined consciously, and a decision has to be taken as to whether or not we are gonna leave our people behind, or we gonna take them with us.”
Fraser gave a number of examples of budgetary allocations, showing that, although the overall budget has increased significantly over the past 10 years, the allocation to important areas has been cut over the said period.
“How could you conduct operations 10 years later with the same funding you have 10 years ago when we all know that everything is growing in the territory? Everything is getting bigger, and therefore it is absolutely necessary to have more money for the operation,” the Opposition member further said.
$90 million more
Fraser went on to note that, for example, there is a budget of $323 million this fiscal year – an amount that is $90 million more than the budget 10 years ago.
Based on the increased budget, more funds should be available today in critical areas such as community development, Fraser reasoned.
That, he argued, is not the case.
“$90 million more and I am standing here in great need of the things that I used to have [10 years ago]. $90 million could build a hospital… $90 million could build Tortola Pier Park – a lot of money.”
“Even with significantly more [money in the budget], we have less to show, and somebody needs to give us the answer – and not only the answer; somebody needs to show us how we are gonna reverse that trend because it’s not helping,” Fraser continued.
He told the parliament that the telltale sign of the reduction in services despite increased budgets can be seen easily in communities.
“I was getting $300,000 ten years ago; you getting 200,000 today… The money is in here (in the budget); it is in here somewhere. There is a lot more money in here,” Fraser said emphatically while he questioned how the territory’s money is being spent.
Fraser, in the meantime, warned that there will be a backlash at the community level if the government continues to reduce services while increasing the territory’s budget by millions.
“If we don’t start looking at it and tackling it head-on, there is gonna be some terrible, terrible backlash,” the veteran lawmaker cautioned.
He continued: “If you drive through the districts, you would notice that – over the years – the impact in the reduction in these allocations is being felt. It seems obvious. This holds true for community centres; it holds true for schools; it holds true for all the public structures.”
“When you have to borrow money for maintenance purposes; when you have to borrow money for operational purposes, you are walking down a dangerous road with no defence whatsoever, and that’s where we are heading,” added Fraser.
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