Though constitutionally tasked with the responsibility of holding the Government to account, the Opposition Leader is claiming that his office is being starved of the vital financial resources that it needs to fulfill its mandate.
In fact, Bishop Joseph Atherley has revealed that while there is money allocated to Parliament each year, there is no official allocation for the office of the Opposition.
In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, Atherley further pointed out that the ongoing dispute over whether his People’s Party for Democracy and Development (PdP) qualifies to share in the $300,000 annual subvention for political parties represented in Parliament, has further hamstrung his office’s ability to function as the conscience of the Government.
The Opposition Leader painted a dismal picture of an office which could not afford adequate staffing, proper research or even decent furniture. He lamented the fact that the Opposition has no official vehicle, even though there is a messenger/driver, who has to use his own vehicle in order to fulfill this daily duties.
“The situation at our office is a horror story. When I came to this position, I was surprised to find that the Opposition is funded in the way it is done. There is no budget which is allocated to the Opposition even though it is a constitutional position. Even ministries which are not constitutional positions are allocated funding and yet there is no funding allocated to the office of the Leader of the Opposition. The funding comes to Parliament in lump sum and the Opposition can make requests on funding voted by Parliament for Parliament. This is not always the simplest of tasks,” said Atherley.
He further revealed, “I can tell you that there are times that we do without a lot of things because no specific funding is allocated for us. There are times we have paid for things out of our own pockets. The Opposition is allocated four staff positions, an assistant, a secretary, a maid and I have a driver messenger. There is no research officer provided and the driver messenger is not provided with a vehicle nor allowance for use of his own vehicle. We have requested that a look be taken at the furniture because I have had the unfortunate situation of a chair collapsing with me and me slamming my head against the wall.”
Atherley, who crossed the floor just days after the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) won all 30 seats in the May 2018 elections, contended that when he was a member of the then Mia Mottley-led Opposition, the office was well equipped, as it had the benefit of its share of the subvention to offset some of the expenses.
“I used to come to this place when I was in another party and I would see staff in this place which went beyond the number of four. So it means that funds probably could have been used to remunerate staff who could have operated in dual roles in the Opposition office, even though they were members of a party. But we don’t have that subvention,” he lamented.
Delivering the feature remarks on day one of the BLP’s annual conference last October, Mottley made it clear that under the rules of Parliament, the PdP did not qualify for the subvention.
She said then, “I want you to know and the rest of the country that when that subvention was first formulated, the rule for access to the subvention was that you must have had run in the last general election and fielded at least one third of the Cabinet in Parliament, so Joe, luck buss! You got to wait and win some seats next time around.”
However, Atherley told Barbados TODAY that while the Prime Minister has made good on her word, the only evidence he has seen in support of her position, is an unsigned Parliamentary document, which dates back to 1997.
“Obviously the intention of the framers of this measure was to ensure that parties had the benefit of access to finance that would allow for proper operations of a political party in a situation where we have a maturing democracy. Obviously if you don’t have that funding it stifles the effort and maybe that is the intention,” said Atherley.
“It impedes you in terms of your ability to contact people for services, pay utility bills, pay rental, pay for research and it has really impacted negatively in that regard,” he said. “I can’t pay for research as the leader of the party, I can’t pay for staff, I can’t pay for operation. If the intention is to ensure that the PdP does not properly get up off the ground and pose a potent threat and present a credible alternative, then the intention is meeting with some measure of success.”