Outspoken Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn today spurned the tabling of the Central Bank of Barbados (Amendment) Act, 2018 and the Financial Management and Audit (Amendment) Act, 2018 in the Upper Chamber.
After taking issue with the late notice of the two bills, Franklyn insisted that Government’s move to “rush” the measures was an unnecessary attempt to impress the public that it was keeping its election promises.
“All of this is giving the country the impression that the Government has hit the ground running,” Franklyn said.
“Government is trying to give itself the power to do what it can already do . . . . Instead of wasting time with optics, all you have to do is restrict yourself, you don’t have to pass legislation to behave yourself.”
The Financial Management and Audit (Amendment) Act, 2018 will give the Mia Mottley administration permission to write off Government’s overdraft of $308 million.
And to discourage any appetite for spending, Government’s overdraft limit will be lowered, from ten per cent of estimated revenue for a financial year to 7.5 per cent.
At the same time, the amendment of the Central Bank of Barbados Act allows the island’s monetary authority to purchase or acquire notes, bills, securities and other instruments issued or guaranteed by Government up to ten per cent of estimated expenditure of Government in a financial year, “or such percentage that the House of Assembly may from time to time approve”.
An unimpressed Franklyn however charged that Government was already abusing the Financial Management and Audit Act to unilaterally deduct monies from the pay of civil servants to recover “overdrawn salaries”.
“That money is money that they are taking away from workers that they are entitled to. It is called in the public service an extension of sick leave on full pay. There is no such thing in the laws of Barbados that speak to a suspension of sick leave on no pay or half pay and Government has been using this act, this Financial Management Act, to deprive workers of monies that are lawfully entitled to,” the plain-speaking Franklyn charged.
He insisted that this was one of the challenges that Government should use Parliament to fix, rather than pursuing “ill conceived” election promises to “excite the crowd”.
“If ain’t broke don’t fix it . . . [and] this thing ain’t broke. Fix things that are important to the people of this country.”
Franklyn challenged the ruling Barbados Labour Party to review some of its manifesto offerings to see if they made “business sense”, while he poked holes in Government’s five per cent wage offer for public servants that is scheduled to be paid from next month, and the removal of the National Social Reconstruction Levy (NSRL).
The veteran trade unionist, who is General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union, said the pay rise was a case of Government giving with one hand taking with the next.
“At the bottom of the scale that five per cent increase is $96.84 and with one fell swoop, you took away $45.62 cents of that calling it a sewage and garbage levy. That is not fair to people who have been suffering for ten years without an increase.
“That five per cent at the top of the scale, a permanent secretary equates to $616.36. You are not really doing anything for the people who have been suffering at the bottom. So if the Government wants to do something and use urgent parliamentary time to do it, deal with things like that,” he said.
With respect to the NSRL, Franklyn suggested that Government would have been seemed wiser had it removed ten per cent of the 17.5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT).
“When you levy the VAT you are lucky if you get 40 per cent, because the private sector people refuse to pay in the VAT . . . . NSRL on imports was a certain amount of money you were going to get, but Government again likes the optics.”
He maintained that the solution was not in the raising of taxes, but in the enforcement of legislation to collect taxes.
“Go after the money you have out there and stop doing like the last administration, come for some more from the poor people,” he admonished.
Franklyn’s rebuke of the Government’s bill elicited a strong response from Senator Kay McConney, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Smart Technology, who said there was a big difference between optics and giving predictability to local and international investors.
“I support these bills for three reasons. One, because they promote responsible financial management, two, because they provide greater transparency to the public in the financial decision making of this Government and three, because they have the potential to increase public confidence in the commitment of this Government to put national interests first,” she stressed.