Leader of the Opposition Bishop Joseph Atherley is calling for clarity from Government as it relates to the Head of State’s involvement in the firing of a Central Bank Governor under new legislation.
He told the House of Assembly that the Central Bank of Barbados Bill 2020, which gives the Head of State the power to consent or dissent to the Minister of Finance’s recommendation for the Central Bank Governor to be fired, was “uncertain” given that Government intends to become a republic by November 30, 2021, replacing the Governor General who is currently the representative of the Queen.
Among the changes in the legislation are the introduction of a six-year contract for the Governor of the Central Bank and a provision for the Governor to be relieved of his duties only if a recommendation from the Minister of Finance is supported by the Head of State.
Speaking during debate on the Bill in the House of Assembly, Atherley said: “We have in existence today, and will have at most – if the voice of Government is to be heard, understood and believed – one year left for the construct we know as the Governor General. We do not know beyond that year what the construct of the Head of State of Barbados will be. It may very well turn out to be that he or she who is the Head of State of Barbados, at most a year from now, is in fact a living representation of the governing party of the day, whatever party that is,” he said.
“I am simply saying that this legislation is pointing us in a direction in which there is some high degree of uncertainty.”
The St Michael West MP told the Lower Chamber that Government was presenting legislation intended to serve for the next 11 months or 12 months, when it needed to take beyond that point into account.
“You are giving a significantly pivotal role to an embodiment over which there is obvious uncertainty today. Whereas you are trying on one hand, you say, to avoid the appearance of political influence or over interference in the process of appointment and hence a six-year tenure, you are creating a situation where that person can be removed at the initiation of action by the minister responsible for the oversight of that position at the Central Bank, and you are involving an entity as Head of State.
“It may very well be that we end up with a Head of State, not a Governor General depending on how that construct emerges a Head of State, who is a living representation of the party in office at that time,” he contended.
Atherley accused the Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn of “serious assaults” against the person who previously occupied the position of Governor of the Central Bank, and cautioned that the Government must not create a “hostile environment” between itself and the holder of that office.
“We can’t simply relate to a particular individual. It must be that the goal that we seek to do is institutional strengthening and the advancement of the integrity of the entity. It cannot be that we are responding in any subjective fashion to what we saw as the failures of any particular individual, or even a particular administration. It has to be that the institution can benefit from Government in these ways and that is why we set out to do these things,” he said.
The Opposition Leader pointed out that while the Central Bank reports very often on its state of affairs, there were other government institutions that were not so forthcoming with information.
He singled out the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) which he claimed only reported “when it felt to do so”.
“Central Bank reports very often but we have situations where the National Insurance Scheme reports when it seems good to them so to do. We do not have properly audited financial reports coming to the Parliament of Barbados,” Atherley argued.
“The matter of transparency at pivotal government institutions is worthy of address. We can’t limit the effort to the Central Bank because in the past we have had a principal who has acted in a way that displeases us. We have to look at the issue of transparency of the institutional life of Barbados in a holistic way. We have to be transparent ourselves while we do so.”