Regular BU readers must be picking-up a recurring theme when we write about governance in Barbados. We have had a system of government which has served us well over the years__BUT. Many of the activities within the system can be described as nothing more than norms, conventions and traditions. Given the changing demographics in Barbados influenced by immigration and the need to connect in a free world, which has_rightly or wrongly_embraced globalization, such is the problem we must confront with conviction. Here is the punch line, one does not have to be a reputed constitutional lawyer and BLP lackey to understand the point.
Yes indeed Ezra Alleyne, please duck!
Barbados Tourism Minister – “Let’s Pour More Tax Money Down This GEMS Hole. NO… You Can’t See The Financial Statements You Stupid Bajans”
Theft In Progress – Somebody Call The Police! (oh, ya… nevermind)
Every body knows that the best predictor of future performance – is past performance. That’s why a store owner doesn’t hire a paroled thief just out of jail for the position of head cashier. The Government of Barbados has poured millions and millions into the GEMS hotels and refuses to provide an accounting even though it is required by law. They can’t even say how much they have lost. Nor will they provide any explanation for government purchases of run-down hotels that belong to “special friends” of the government.
When BU read the story above on BFP this week we confess that a feeling of hopelessness overcame the household. It also triggered a heavy debate on how a democracy which is held up as a model to the world would allow a government to display such wanton waste of tax payers’ dollars. The fact that we live in a developing country with a paucity of resources made the current state of affairs all the more unpalatable. If we thought that the squandermania was the issue it then dawned on us that here was a government which has broken the financial rules of the country without any fear of receiving reprisals from within the system of government which BU must admit has served us well to date.
This ongoing embarrassment__branded “JAWS” by the former leader of the opposition and currently the junior Minister of Finance Clyde Mascoll__ energized BU to quietly examine what workable options or recourse the Barbados public has in forcing accountability and transparency in matters in the ongoing “JAW” affair. The piece is not about GEMS but a critique of that government oversight body responsible for guarding the financial behavior of the Crown__the Public Accounts Committee.
BU declares that extracting information to complete this piece was very difficult. This in itself is disturbing when one considers that we now live in the age of the Internet and on an island that frequently boast to be on the threshold of first world status. The leader of the Opposition is overseas, the Clerk of Parliament is overseas, the deputy Clerk of parliament was promoted this week and will be moving on, we contacted some other people who we shall protect by not revealing their stations. We found no government website which lists information on the workings of the PAC pre or post-2003, the law was amended to enjoined members in the Senate to those sitting members in the lower house__more on this to follow.
BU have heard the perennial public criticism of Thompson, Mascoll and all the previous Leaders of the Opposition who tried to mobilize the PAC with little success. Perhaps the most successful of the leaders of the Opposition at mobilizing the PAC is Sir Henry Forde__for those of you old enough he was able to get a hearing on the St.Joseph Hospital issue. We suspect his success was more as a result of happenstance and individual resolve rather that compulsion in law. The reality as BU understand it is that prior to 2003 when the law governing the PAC was changed, it operated like one of the many committees in parliament. Now we all know that “House Committees” do not function in the Lower House, and for a good reason__there are too many! In Barbados we are heard to boast that we have the Westminster Model of government, in reality what we have is a small flavor of it.
The parliamentary system that we love and which BU admit has served us reasonable well is better suited to a parliament like the UK, New Zealand and Australia and the larger Commonwealth territories that command hundreds of members of parliament (MP’s) sitting. The efficiency of the West Minister Model_and we are no experts_is the ability of the standing committees to be assigned duties over different aspects of government’s legislature to ensure that there is detention to detail. We can use the comparison of a large corporation which has to establish project teams to assist management in getting the work done. The good governance of Barbados over the years can be attributed to “good” members of parliament and an “excellent” civil service. BU’s concern given the changing profile of the modern politician__the increasing corruption and complexity of government__ is that Barbadians need to pressure our governments to ensure that the committees of parliament are revamped.
We should remember that the 2003 amended Public Accounts Committee Law was required because the Thompson led Opposition was comprised of two members only, this meant that the quorum required to call a PAC meeting was impossible. An important change to the 2003 law was the inclusion of Senators to the pool of members qualified to sit on the PAC. BU can draw out this matter but we suspect that it would be boring to Barbadians who despite our intelligence pay little interest to these matters which we take for granted. What we will say is that successive Opposition Leaders have been frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the PAC in our system of government. Some of them had procedural challenges and in more recent times it has been more legal. A BU source confirm that a “paper” from a committee in parliament to address the PAC will be laid in parliament shortly. Let us hope that is helps to raise the awareness of a “dumb” public.
Barbadians maybe surprise to know that the PAC has had no real teeth through the years. It has been the “fear” of being investigated which has propelled individuals to respond to concerns of the royal opposition. Because of the challenges faced by the PAC over these years to have regular meetings, the fear factor has dwindled. If we are to use the GEMS issue as an example. The inability of the PAC to call meetings and as a result call government MPs and relevant parties to appear before the committee ensures that the government can continue to flout the financial rules of the country. The opportunity for a rogue government to hijack our wonderful system of government is REAL and Barbadians should sit-up and take note. It is time Barbados start to reap the benefits of the huge sums invested in our education system over the years. In a nutshell the many calls we hear to have Integrity Legislation cannot standalone as a measure to manage corruption and sustain good governance. The bedrock issue here is to create a more efficient working government. Unfortunately with only 30 members available to parliament, and allowing for the few Senators that can now participate on the PAC__it is not enough.
BU understands that even with the change in legislation, and notwithstanding the recent work done by a parliamentary group__the challenges of the PAC will be further frustrated as members called to appear will probably be accompanied by lawyers given the legal and reputational issues which have become increasingly relevant in our changing society. So Barbadians let us start to educate ourselves and our children on this subject if we want to defend our democracy.
Resource: Public Accounts Committee Law (2003)