Minister of Energy and Business Development Kerrie Symmonds has taken President of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Dr Ronnie Yearwood to task for trying to “stir up a furor and incite panic and strife” over the latest Auditor General’s Report.
Symmonds, who was leading the debate on the Electric Light and Power (Amendment) Bill in the Lower House on Friday, accused the DLP leader of trying to “clutch at every straw he can find in an effort to make himself relevant and hopefully for him to save what is a leaderless institution characterised only by infighting, from extinction”.
“There is a context to the artificial political posturing that we have to look at. It begins, unfortunately, with the cathedral of lawlessness that the Democratic Labour Party has allowed itself to become. The renewable energy sector is not the only victim. As recently as this morning, some of my colleagues and I were commenting on this furor that is being whipped up,” said Symmonds.
Suggesting that the DLP was lacking in policy, Symmonds said: “You can’t just feel that public life is only about stirring up furor and inciting panic and strife. That is how this country, unfortunately, was back in the 60s and 50s, but people now are a little bit more discerning and expect a little bit more”.
“When I listen to that which they are stirring up with regard to, for example, the Auditor General’s Report, I ask if this is the same government that went where nobody else in the Eastern Caribbean went with respect to making sure that there is a Financial Management Act of the highest kind, protecting the interest of statutory entities in Barbados and ensuring accountability at levels that are not be found anywhere else in the Eastern Caribbean. Is this not the same Government?” said Symmonds.
Since the publication of the latest Auditor General’s Report, which points to several anomalies in some state agencies, several pundits have raised concerns, including Yearwood.
In his assessment of the report, Yearwood told Barbados TODAY late last month that the Mia Mottley-led administration should make legislative amendments to allow an independent senator to chair the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
He also recommended that the Office of the Auditor General be better staffed, and demanded certain constitutional protections for that office.
“The same way that this Government can make an amendment for friends and appoint Senators who didn’t meet a particular threshold to become Senators, and for all kinds of other small purposes, you can change the Constitution to do something that actually is meaningful and that is there to protect the interest of Barbadians,” Yearwood said.
The DLP leader has also insisted that the latest Auditor General’s Report has shown poor governance, as he called for greater transparency from the Barbados Labour Party administration and for Barbadians to demand better.
However, Symmonds, who is the Senior Minister coordinating the productive sectors, threw out a challenge to Yearwood.
“Where in the Auditor General’s Report is there a finger pointed at any member of the Cabinet of Barbados with respect to misappropriation of funds? But that has been the story over and over with respect to successive governments in history. Therefore, if there is a comment to be made, let us then again recognise that yes, the soft underbelly of the public administration of this system in this country has been laid bare by COVID.
“I have no doubt that is true, I have no doubt the Auditor General is right when he points to getting information from government departments, but he is equally pointing to the fact that auditing firms, private sector auditing firms with big names, some of whom are ancillary to international companies with big names, couldn’t get the financial statements in on time. So how it is that COVID impacts them and they can’t get financial statements into the Auditor General on time, but if a statutory entity has a problem because 10 [or] 15 people in the department [are] out with COVID, and for six months that has been the case recurring . . . how then does this become something to hang a whole government on?” said Symmonds.
He pointed to several anomalies across several government agencies under the last DLP administration, saying “those were the days when there was political accountability being called for by the Auditor General.”
“I am yet to see a single page in this report that speaks to the necessity for there to be political accountability for wrongdoing,” said Symmonds.
“I see a report that points us in the direction of a weakness and fragility in the public administration system. But the systemic failures have been pointed out by this government from day one and that is why this government has been deconstructing and reconstructing systems across every department of Barbados over the course of the last four years.”
The Energy Minister singled out the Immigration Department, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, and the Grantley Adams International Airport where such reconstruction was taking place, adding that there were others and it was still “a work in progress”. (MM)