Peadar Kirby: Amid all the kite flying, the scaremongering and the testing of the electorate’s pain threshold, the central lesson of the preparations for Budget 2012 has been lost. For more clearly than anything that the FG/Labour coalition has done since taking office, the way Budget 2012 was prepared shows that we are back to politics as usual Irish-style.
Two aspects invite attention. The first is the process and the second the content. Budgets should be seen as opportunities to debate national choices for expenditure and taxation, choices that ultimately involve values about the sort of society we want in the future. New left governments in Latin America have over recent decades experimented with forms of participatory budgetary processes that draw wide sections of the population into deliberating on these choices and, in the case of Brazil at least, having a real say in what choices are made. Instead, in Ireland we have a process made behind closed doors with various options floated to gauge public reaction but with final decisions made only by cabinet. We take this for granted but it is an appallingly undemocratic and irrational way of doing things. We might have expected that, with so much emphasis on political reform, the opportunity would be taken to open up the process on this occasion.
Inevitably, such a process undermines any prospect that preparing the budget might at least begin to address the major questions about expenditure and taxation that face this society. We urgently need a public debate on the balance between expenditure and tax increases that should characterise our adjustment and, much more importantly, about the sort of taxation system we need if we are to achieve greater resources for national development and greater equity and fairness in where we get these from. This is perhaps the single most urgent reform we need as a society and, judging from the preparations for Budget 2012, we are not going to get it.
One might be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that our political and economic leaders see a value on so distracting and frightening the citizens, that no one dares raise these wider issues. It is yet another sign, if one is needed, that we badly need the sort of vibrant citizens’ movement that is beginning to emerge in other societies. One issue at the top of its agenda should be the right to have a say in preparing the national budget.