It is time for Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to be disciplined!
This was the contention of Opposition Member of Parliament for St James Central Kerrie Symmonds Sunday night as he addressed a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) political meeting at the St Christopher Primary School in the southern constituency of Christ Church East.
Making the call before a crowd of BLP supporters, Symmonds zeroed in on a number of worrying findings contained in the 2015 Auditor General report, including three quarters of a billion dollars ($765 million) in “cumulative advantages”, mainly to statutory corporations, which the Auditor General Leigh Trotman said were not properly authorized and were unlikely to be repaid.
Warning that the situation also stood to negatively impact the country’s fiscal deficit, Symmonds called for Sinckler, who has direct responsibility for the country’s financial purse, to be held to account, while serving notice on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that the upcoming National Budget was not the time for any “lecture in history”, but a time for Stuart to show the country that he was serious about taking action against fiscal recklessness and lawlessness.
The Opposition spokesman did not go as far as to state that Sinckler should be fired, although he implied as much, saying “disciplinary” measures needed to brought against him by the Prime Minister for the financial drain which took place under his watch and for the “failed” attempts to stabilize the economy over the last eight years.
Making out his case for the dismissal of the Democratic Labour Party administration as a whole, Symmonds also highlighted the situation at the National Housing Corporation (NHC), recalling that in fiscal year 2010/2011, the bi-partisan Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, of which he is a member, had “unearthed one of the most horrific, disgraceful and scandalous” practices by the statutory corporation of “having five to six people doing one job”.
In many instances, Symmonds charged that the workers who benefited from this “excess” employment, were political appointees who came from the same parish.
However, he said this “happy go lucky, runaway approach to the employment of people”, came at a heavy cost to the Treasury of $2.4 million per month.
And to make matters worse for taxpayers, he charged that there was no parliamentary approval, in support of the Auditor General’s complaints of an absence of capital appropriation.
Symmonds, who is an attorney-at-law, further argued that if, as was the case with the NHC, $2.4 million of taxpayers money was going every month to pay wages and salaries, then Central Government should be holding some of the real estate that the NHC owns.
However, he said: “What we discovered was that this money was going from the Ministry of Finance, or by order from the Ministry of Finance, from the Treasury to the NHC with nothing in place to protect the taxpayers.
“And what we could not have imagined, but what the Auditor General has now shed light on, is that there has been clearly above and beyond the reprehensible conduct taking place with respect to the National Housing Corporation, a widespread practice of this financial lawlessness to take place to the tune now of three quarters of a billion dollars moved from the Treasury of this country,” Symmonds lamented.
He stressed that three quarters of a billion dollars had therefore “dissipated, gone up in smoke” while a “smug” Minister of Finance took time recently to sign an order for the restitution of a ten per cent pay cut to parliamentarians, which would see the Prime Minister himself being “rewarded” with “$20,000 more added on to his salary when the year come”.