The need for strategic planning, prioritizing and doing the best with limited financial resources were among the recurrent themes when the Ministry of Finance, the Economy and Public Administration held its sophomore Budget Forum on Monday.
The day-long session at the Multipurpose Cultural and Exhibition Centre followed the inaugural forum held in March. The attendees, comprising ministers of government, permanent secretaries and other senior personnel in the respective ministries, were given an overview of the global outlook for 2012 and 2013.
Economist attached to the Ministry of Finance Ted Lewis noted that, globally, recovery remains at risk; that the Euro Zone debt crisis has the potential for escalation; that there is a mandate for the fiscal policies of advanced economies, such as the United States, to be tightened; and the likelihood of increases in oil and commodities prices.
The implications for Antigua and Barbuda, Lewis said, include a decrease in remittances; a severe reduction in Foreign Direct Investment; a decline in tourism expenditure; and limited financing options available to the government.
Lewis added that while the report from the last quarter in Antigua and Barbuda suggested an improvement in the fiscal situation, the economic woes are far from over.
He urged the representatives of the ministries to consider these facts when making their presentations Monday, and when preparing their work plans and budget requests for 2013.
The task of the representatives, in turn, was to explain how each ministry has managed its allocation to date; how the remaining plans and programmes for the year would be executed with the balance; and their strategic aims and objectives going forward.
Minister of Finance, the Economy and Public Administration Harold Lovell, in his opening remarks, cautioned the ministries to ensure utilization of finite resources in a prudent way by adhering to budget programming.
Minister Lovell told the attendees there is a need for rigidity in planning, monitoring and evaluating.
"As we prepare for the 2013 budget cycle, we are, once again, asking you to be prudent and economical," Minister Lovell said.
"Plan using a shared-outcomes approach. Collaborate and coordinate with other departments and ministries to find ways to save, avoid duplication of efforts and share resources," he added.
The Minister of Finance also asked his counterparts and their teams to "prioritize so that the most important and relevant activities are executed."
The gathering was also advised to "use indicators that will help you to monitor progress towards achievement of your results and to evaluate how well you are doing."
Minister Lovell also reminded the technicians to ensure that their stated aims and objectives are linked to the National Economic and Social Transformation (NEST) Plan.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, who among other responsibilities has oversight for three distinct ministries, acknowledged the challenges during the presentation of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Of his own ministry he noted the "juggling acts and acrobatics" it takes to perform its functions, including those imperatives not included in the budget projection. An example of this was the recent inauguration of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Assembly.
"It's a question of doing the best and making sure you design the plan in such a way to give focus to those things that are critical," PM Spencer said.
Budget Director Carolyn Tongue later drilled down on that statement, advising ministries that presented multiple objectives for 2013 to focus on the core functions given the limited funds.
The aim of the forum, representatives from the Ministry of Finance said, is to improve the budget process, to set priorities for the upcoming year and to gauge how ministries are managing the allocations.
At the day's end, Minister Lovell noted that session two had been an improvement over the first forum. "This exercise is part of a developing process; we are not there yet," the minister said.
He commended the ministries for crossing the threshold in terms of what was asked of them. "We went further this time than last time, and I hope next time it will be better," Minister Lovell added.