Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) hopeful Ralph Thorne is dismissing as “legal sewage” and nonsense the reasons given by lawyers for three Government ministers’ refusal to appear before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Last month, Opposition Leader and PAC Chairman Mia Mottley had summoned Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Minister of Housing Denis Kellman, and former Minister of Housing Michael Lashley to appear before the committee to answers questions on spending for public housing, based on matters raised in the report by Auditor General Leigh Trotman.
However, the ministers have refused to appear, and in a statement published by Barbados TODAY last Friday their lawyers Hal Gollop, QC, Michael Yearwood and Neil Marshall said “the summons to our clients by its very nature was illegal, since it was purporting to use the stated jurisdiction of examining to effectively hold an enquiry”.
Wondering aloud whether the ministers had something to hide, Thorne, a Queen’s Counsel who will contest the Christ Church South seat for the BLP in the next general election, suggested last night at a party meeting at Top Rock, Christ Church that there was a foul stench emanating from the statement.
“The statement issued on behalf of those ministers is legal sewage that is flowing into the halls of Parliament of this country. It is absolute pseudo legalistic nonsense,” he said.
He said that the PAC was set up to oversee public spending and Barbadians, through the committee, had a right to scrutinize Government’s handling of their money.
Thorne accused the minsters of questioning the PAC’s authority, something he said was unheard of in other countries.
He cited as an example, the United States Senate committees, telling party supporters: “If you fail to attend a Senate committee hearing, you can be arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms in the Congress of the United States.”
Thorne contended that as PAC Chairman Mottley “lawfully and legitimately” had the power to summon the ministers, and asked why “an honest man” would object to appearing as a witness.
“Why you run for a team of lawyers to write a lot of legal sewage in defiance of what the law in Barbados mandates?” he asked.
“Instead of honouring the law, they are resorting to [use of] power.”
The Opposition politician said the three ministers were not chosen arbitrarily, explaining that the Minister of Finance was called because all funds had to go through him, while the current and former Ministers of Housing were called because they were responsible for the projects.
Noting that the PAC acted on reports of the Auditor General, Thorne said “the Public Accounts Committee is there as a watchdog over Government’s mishandling of allocated funds for public spending in this country.
“Must we sit and read a report of the Auditor General and find ourselves unable to do anything about Government misspending in this country?”
The ministers were summoned to be quizzed about the operations of the state-run National Housing Corporation. At issue is the employment of 47 people over and above the approved staff complement for the statutory agency; the auditing of accounts and the laying of those accounts before Parliament and the awarding of contracts for the Exmouth, Coverley, Grotto, Bushy Park and Country Park Towers housing projects. (GA)