The Public Finance Management Bill is a key component in ensuring Barbados does not go through some of the economic hardship it experienced over the past decade where lots of money was spent by Government but not properly accounted for.
Attorney General and Member of Parliament for St Joseph, Dale Marshall, explained that the passage of the bill by the end of this month is one of the obligations the Mia Mottley-led administration has to meet under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme.
“The bill was moved in December but we needed to get it right, so we set up a joint select committee to look at it so that it could do what it was supposed to do. While we did not have any public meetings on it as we did with the Integrity in Public Life legislation, we did have good contributions on how we could improve it from the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, one of the Opposition Senators and one of the independent Senators, so we did get the benefit of opposing views from people with expertise and training in these areas.”
Marshall mentioned that the original bill was passed in 2007, but based on what took place over the past decade, “It was not effective enough. This new one shows that the glaring mistakes of the last government do not happen again, and will hopefully remove some of the cynicism most Barbadians feel when they think of accountability for government spending.”
He spoke to the provisions in the law which will ensure that all Government departments and state-owned corporations submit financial reports at least twice a year.
“This legislation will call on every state-owned agency to have an annual plan outlining its financial and other performance. So, for example, if the Rural Development Commission wants a million dollars, they must be able to state the purpose for it, whether it is for houses, loans or payment of salaries. Their plans of action must be posted on a Government website within a week of the Estimates. And after six months, they must present a half-yearly report to Parliament, stating what they have achieved, and if they have not met all their goals, they must explain why and account for all the money they have spent.”
The AG described the “piece de resistance” of the new legislation as a provision which calls on the agencies to hold public meetings every two years. “At these meetings, the public of Barbados will be able to ask the directorate and senior management of these agencies pertinent questions. All public companies in Barbados have to hold meetings like this, so it is in Government’s best interest to expose its departments to this type of scrutiny.”
Another element of the legislation is that if a public official, including a minister, “Intends to commit government’s finances in an inappropriate way, a public servant has the right to warn that higher official that it is wrong, and if he disagrees with that counsel, he has to write the public servant back and give reasons as to why he is not following his.
“The public servant can then write to the Director of Finance and explain everything, and if this decision causes any wastage for government, the minister will be held personally liable for it. We cannot go back and change history now, but if that aspect of the law was in place under the last administration, some people would have been in serious trouble,” Marshall said.