Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s decision to take a major departure from the usual presentation format of the annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, is being called a “pointless publicity stunt” by two political parties.
In the Lower House on Tuesday, Mottley revealed that ministers will now have to sit in the Well of the House of Assembly (the dividing space between the two sides of the Lower Chamber), along with their permanent secretary and technocrats of the ministries, to be quizzed by other ministers, backbenchers and the Opposition Leader, on their plans to spend money allocated from the public coffers.
However, DLP president Verla De Peiza contends that this exercise is by no means new, as it done as part of the preparations for the Estimates. Therefore, she suggested that the public was essentially getting a front row seat to a “pointless exercise.”
“Let me tell you something, an exercise of that nature happens before the Estimates are created outside of the public domain and outside of Parliament. So, you have Estimates hearings to create the Estimates. So this process is not new. I am just wondering if in having this scrutiny take place in Parliament in public view, if there is an end point besides great publicity,” queried De Peiza.
The former senator also questioned whether the process of publicly justifying funding is going to allow for changes to the Estimates, should queries raised from the floor of Parliament not be adequately answered.
“When they ask the questions of the civil servants and the ministers, what really is the point of it? Should the line item not pass muster would it be scrapped? Does it get sent back to the drawing board? I want to know what the efficacy of the exercise is,” she stressed.
In addition, De Peiza said she is concerned that there was no mention of adjusting the existing legislation to give the civil servant, thrust into the process, parliamentary privilege and immunities.
“I expect the clarity would come in some future amendment because I searched the legislation and I found no provision for this. I don’t mind the ministers because they could be questioned as much they want but bringing the civil servants into it has to be covered by legislation. If you are calling civil servants to a public hearing for scrutiny in Parliament then they should be equally covered. They [Government] have carte blanche, so there is nothing to stop them from doing it,” she said.
Head of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Lynette Eastmond, also took issue with the Prime Minister’s decision to involve civil servants in the exercise. She charged that the role of the civil servants, which is to follow the policy direction of the elected Government, is now being politicized.
“Civil servants play a different role from politicians and there is going to be a problem when you start joining the two. For the last 10 -15 years it appears that politicians do not understand the special role of civil servants. Politicians set the policy and civil servants are not supposed to become so enamoured with their own ideas that if a new Government comes, they can’t understand that they must now take direction from the new Government. So, this kind of public political position that the prime minister is pushing begins to blur the lines,”
said Easmond, who told Barbados TODAY that she had no problem with ministers being questioned.
However, like De Peiza, Eastmond questioned the point of the exercise, arguing that the Estimates was in essence an allocation of monies to the policy measures which all 30 members of Parliament, including Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley, campaigned on.
“They are basically going to be asking themselves questions and I don’t see the point of that. The Estimates is where you are now putting money behind the policies that you campaigned and up to now the Leader of the Opposition has not said that he disagrees with the policies that he ran on. So again I say that you are essentially quizzing yourself,” she stressed.