Ministers and senior civil servants will for the first time be subject to parliamentary scrutiny during the Government’s annual budget process, commonly known as the Estimates debate, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Dale Marshall has revealed.
The change is among procedural reforms that have been proposed by a parliamentary committee. Marshall said the time had come for the Barbadian public to have an understanding about how their money was being spent.
He said the usual process during the Estimates, in which lawmakers gave speeches over the first two to three days normally resulted in the majority of Government’s finances being left untouched.
“Those speeches ranged far and wide and did not even deal with the Estimates themselves,” Marshall contended, as he spoke during a Resolution to adopt the report of the Standing Orders Committee in Parliament this morning.
In an attempt to make the process more meaningful, ministers will be quizzed by his colleagues, as well as the Opposition Leader, as to how monies allocated to that ministry were being spent, Marshall told the House of Assembly.
“In the coming Estimates debate, ministers will be responsible for saying in their 30-minute speech what it is that they are going to be doing in their programme, but then what is absolutely new is that that minister must now leave his chair and sit in what we call the ‘Well of the Chamber’ and be joined by his permanent secretary and senior staff and then an inquisitorial process will begin.
“Ministers, backbenchers and everybody in the Chamber will have a period of three minutes to pose questions to the minister and his public servants about the details of the programme,” Marshall explained.
“Now each of us will fall under a public microscope and be compelled to defend for the world to see, what our programme is. So the era of near sterile speeches and empty congratulatory remarks has come to an end.”
Marshall said the Estimates would be limited to a one-week period, due “to the size of our Parliament and the size of our Budget”.
Documents of the House will now be laid electronically, he added.
“We are doing things instantaneously across the globe, but yet somehow still figure that our Parliament needs to have its feet stuck firmly in the dark ages.
“One of the amendments of this bill will allow for the electronic laying of documents, so that the moment Cabinet approves it, I can email it to the Leader of the Opposition so he wouldn’t have to complain like he has done in the past,” Marshall said. He disclosed that the Estimates document was being finalised and was expected to be laid in the House at its next sitting on Tuesday.
But, the Attorney General said: “The way in which we have been doing our Estimates debate does not really lead to accountability on the part of the ministers and on the part of the public officers in their ministry. One of the reasons it doesn’t lead to accountability is simply because it might just not get discussed.
“And equally when the minister makes his presentation, the members of the other side in their 15-minute presentation have the opportunity to ask a variety of questions and invariably, especially in the last administration, every member in that government would get up and spend the entire speech praising themselves and patting themselves on the back . . . . It really became a farce.”