Charging that the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) wanted to create a slush fund for “narrow political partisan purposes”, Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Member of Parliament for St James South Central Kerrie Symmonds today promised the “mother of all confrontations” if Government moves to repeal the Catastrophe Fund Act.
Symmonds told Barbados TODAY of his concern regarding a media report that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler intended taking to Cabinet a proposal to abandon the Act which established the Fund set up to assist needy Barbadians in times of disaster.
“I want to make my position abundantly clear as a sitting member of Parliament, and I say to Christopher Sinckler and the entire Democratic Labour Party they need to wheel and come again on this matter,” Symmonds said.
“This proposed course of action will cause the mother of all confrontations in Barbados because the Democratic Labour Party cannot in any sense have it both ways. They came to office by alleging corruption and misuse of public funds, and now today they wish to dismantle a Catastrophe Fund which serves as a shining example of best practices in the management of public funds in Barbados.”
Sinckler is reported to have said that following the repeal of the Act the administration would hold the money in the Treasury until a decision was taken on what to do with it. However, the Minister of Finance first hinted at plans to terminate the Fund in his Budget presentation last year.
In addressing the mounting health care costs,
Sinckler said then that Government had a responsibility to bring to “a hasty end” the “now seemingly unfortunate public discourse” about financing the country’s healthcare system.
“To this end, the Government proposes the establishment of a Health Care Capital Expenditure Trust Fund. The Government envisages that the Fund will be a public/private partnership with the Government providing an endowment of $20 million to the initial capitalization of the Fund.
“The Government will repeal the legislation passed by this House providing for the Catastrophe Fund currently managed by the National Insurance Scheme, and approximately $20 million of the Fund’s $42 million, will be diverted to the Health Care Capital Expenditure Fund,” he said at the time.
Symmonds would have none of it, telling Barbados TODAY: “It will not be acceptable to turn the Fund, transparently created, independently and neutrally managed as it is, into a political slush fund”.
Symmonds described the NIS as a politically neutral and competent manager.
He said it would not be acceptable “to put $35 million in public funds, which is what the Fund now represents, into the hands of a Government which is prepared to treat it as part of the Democratic Labour Party ongoing customary campaign squander mania exercises.
“I say to the Government that they must prepare themselves for a push back if they continue to walk this road.”
Since its inception in the final year of the BLP administration in 2007 no one has been assisted by the Fund, although a number of Barbadians suffered heavy losses when Tropical Storm Tomas hit the island in 2010.
Symmonds contended that instead of utilizing the Fund after the storm, Government chose to use its own finances while creating a feeding frenzy among its supporters.
He claimed that at the time, the state run National Housing Corporation and the Rural Development Corporation “intervened to fix houses on the most partisan and questionable of bases” while those who were in need had been neglected.
“A lot of shabby miscreants were allowed to put their snouts and trotters into the public trough and feed off of the public’s purse – the purse in fact became something like a trough – while many genuine claimants with real problems got no relief or assistance to this day. And most of those who were assisted by Government back then were persons who were assisted with the purchase of electoral support,” the Opposition parliamentarian charged.
Symmonds argued that the Fund’s governance structure was sound because politicians and political patronage could not determine who would receive disaster relief money. He added that because it was administered by the NIS it was neutral and transparent and it placed a duty on applicants to establish that their claims are legitimate.
The St James South Central MP stressed that under the current scheme, applicants also had to prove ownership of the relevant property, the value of their homes and that they could not afford the repairs.
“We cannot now go back to the bad old days of just doing these things arbitrarily for blind narrow political partisan purposes,” he warned.
He argued that instead of dismantling the legal base for the Fund, Government should investigate whether all of its current requirements were relevant and applicable.
“If there is a difficulty with claimants establishing eligibility, then Kerrie Symmonds will be the first to agree that we should reassess the criteria for accessing the Funds and the Fund’s money,” he insisted.