PARLIAMENT has approved significant repercussions for the government if the latter misses deadlines for submitting future national budgets.
The Cabinet routinely presents its two-year budget to the National Assembly several months late.
However, failure to respect the deadline in future could now result in an automatic vote of no confidence by parliament – which would in turn force the government to resign.
MPs approved the amendment to the 2002 Budget Law yesterday, despite parliament’s financial and economic affairs committee opposing it.
Of 28 MPs present, 24 voted in favour, one against and three abstained.
However, it must now be approved by the Shura Council before the end of its current term, otherwise it will be shelved.
The government is supposed to submit its spending plans to the National Assembly every two years, but the current budget for 2017-2018 was not handed over until last June – nearly eight months overdue and nearly six months after it was supposed to take effect.
According to the constitution it should have been presented by October 31, 2016 – allowing the National Assembly two months to review and approve it.
Such delays are common and the 2015-2016 budget was not finalised by the Cabinet until May 4, 2015, more than six months late.
MP Isa Al Kooheji alleged the government was deliberately delaying the budget to avoid committing itself to new spending programmes.
That is because in the event of a delay, public finances are allocated on a rolling monthly basis until the budget is confirmed.
“The Constitution states October 31 for a reason, which is to ensure the fiscal year starts on January 1 after thorough review and approval by legislators,” he said.
“The budget never comes on time because the government likes working on a month-by-month spending system, which is calculated based on the previous December.
“This means it carries out no new projects and hires no new staff.
“Of course the government will oppose anything that puts the slightest pressure on it, since it wants to work according to its own time frame – not through proper scheduling.”
Parliament’s tough amendments to the Budget Law were originally presented by its chairman, Ahmed Al Mulla.
However, they take into account special circumstances such as national elections and the drafting of the government’s four-year action plan.
“Those are the only circumstances that constitute genuine delays, but in regular cases the budget should be prepared earlier,” said parliament’s services committee chairman Abbas Al Madi.
“There is no excuse for delaying budgets for six to eight months, or for projects that are supposed to be carried out throughout the year being delayed until the last three months.”
Delays in the next budget for 2019-2020 would therefore not result in an automatic vote of no confidence, since the October 31 submission date coincides with national elections.
However, parliament public utilities and environment affairs committee chairman Adel Al Asoomi said it was time MPs got tough on the government’s budget delays.
“If MPs can’t force the government to respect the constitutional deadline, let pressure be applied by the law,” he said.
If approved by the Shura Council, the amendments would force the Finance Minister to present the two-year budget to Cabinet by August 31.
The Cabinet would then have two months to review the planned spending before submitting it to the National Assembly by the constitutional deadline of October 31.
However, the government has claimed in writing that the amendments impose restrictions that ignore complications associated with drafting the budget – an argument that was supported by parliament’s financial and economic affairs committee.
“The current budget system is more flexible and doesn’t rush the government into pushing ahead with any plans for revenues or spending,” said the committee.