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Not proper practice


EZRA ALLEYNE

Not proper practice

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In THE last Sunday SUN former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Philip Greaves QC,  accused me of confusing the public on what he calls an uncomplicated matter. He asserted the right of Minister Senator Darcy Boyce to defend the Government in or out of Parliament, and accused me of “inelegantly” mixing fact with fiction in my article on the previous Sunday when I questioned the right of an “unelected” senator to “lead speak” on money matters for the Government.He criticises my contribution even though he says he does not understand what I mean by “lead speak”.He needlessly reminds us that he does not “parade” himself as a constitutional expert, and that he was one of the framers of the Barbados Constitution, and he challenges me to show where in the Constitution, the Minister of State is prohibited from addressing a Press conference on financial issues, even though I never said that there was such a constitutional prohibition. I defended the senator’s freedom of speech. Talk about setting up “straw targets”. Although Sir Philip was echoing and supporting the Brass Tacks comments of retired Justice of Appeal Sir Frederick Smith, QC, I am yet to be persuaded by their distinguished utterances that I am wrong.  In making any critical comment on public affairs, I always temper my entry into the public record by reference to Alexander Pope’s poem An Essay On Criticism, in which he pointed out that “a little learning is a dangerous thing” and that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. I suspect this is not a universal practice!In seeking to interpret any constitution, it is a major non-point to argue that one was a framer at the constitutional conference because as the courts everywhere have pointed out, a constitution is a “living instrument”. It has to be interpreted against the background of contemporary events, and context is therefore critical. Prime Minister David Thompson left the island in early July on two months’ leave, speaking just before he left on the state of the economy; because political animal that he is, he knew it was a hot button issue.On July 15 Opposition Leader Mia Mottley spoke on the economy following the half-yearly review of Central Bank Governor Dr De Lisle Worrell. She said: “We are standing in the middle of the road with an 18-wheeler truck bearing down and the two Ministers of Finance – Boyce and Stuart – are standing idly by without a word.”On Sunday July 18, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur also spoke on the economy accusing the present Government of feeding the public a lot of propaganda and alleging that the Government appeared nonplussed as to what to do. Then, during the last week of July, and in that context, Minister of State D’Arcy Boyce, following the usual Thursday Cabinet meeting, holds a highly publicised Press conference to speak to economic issues.Neither Economic Affairs Minister Dr Estwick nor the Acting Prime Minister, who is also Acting Minister of Finance, (both Lower House MPs) appeared, and given the language and spirit of the Constitution, it is perfectly legitimate to debate why an unelected senator is “lead-speaking” on financial matters on behalf of the Government? What else was Senator Boyce doing? Taken in its proper context, the senator’s lead-speaking role was  offensive to the spirit of the Constitution and to constitutional practice. And essentially, it matters little whether the senator lead-speaks in or out of Parliament, except that it speaks volumes about who is leading the Ministry of Finance.Suffice it to say that whoever is leading must not be a senator. Was Mr Boyce opening the batting because he is the lead policymaker now?What matters too is when in the course of his utterances such a senator makes statements that raise national eyebrows during the Press conference.In answer to a journalist, the minister mentioned that one borrows for capital and for current. The point was not pursued, but is that the Government’s policy? Prime Minister Thompson never said so, and would never so declare. Is this new policy, and if so who is making it . . . a senator?On CLICO Senator Boyce’s views are equally disturbing. Speaking on the issue of the $300 million worth of annuities, he said: “Of course those investments were made I believe with full knowledge of the participants of the rates of return compared with other similar investments, and we must be careful when we deal with this situation not to introduce what we call moral hazard . . . people profiting from a situation where they ought to have known not to deal with . . . .”Really! is there some new policymaking here? What does this mean?So long as it is recognised that money matters and financial policy are the preserve of the Lower House, the context in which Senator Boyce spoke in defence of the Government on fiscal policy, to the exclusion of all other ministers, including the Acting Minister of Finance, makes the action a breach of correct constitutional practice.

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