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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Where’s the bill?

Dr Frances Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Where’s the bill?

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The more I read manifestos, the more I’m convinced that they’re mere political gimmicks rather than pledges and that Barbadians are among the most gullible people.
The present administration’s 2008 manifesto stated: “There is a need to clean up politics in Barbados and the [Democratic Labour Party] administration’s attitude to accountability will be based on the understanding that as servants and representatives of the people, there can be no secrets or matters to be hidden from the population . . . . The people will be kept informed of what the Government is doing on their behalf through regular Press briefings following meetings of the Cabinet of Barbados, Press briefings by ministries/departments to inform Barbadians of major developments and changes, the publication of details of agreements and contracts involving the Government and its agencies, formal ministerial statements at regular intervals on the progress of ongoing programmes and projects, and a revision of and adherence to the rules of parliamentary questions.”  
 Well, we all know the reality versus the promises. Even senators, expected to debate resolutions involving large sums of money, aren’t provided with enough information for analysis.
Furthermore, Hansard reports on parliamentary proceedings are about six years behind and public officers pick and choose which information they will release, to whom and when. This must change once and for all. We, the public, should have free access to information, providing it does not compromise national security.
Since 2008 the Freedom Of Information Bill 2008 was to be brought before Parliament. Far from bringing such a bill, it seems to me that there are attempts to stymie the efforts of the Public Accounts Committee to expose information.
In 2009 Senator Verla Depeiza stressed that the legislation, when created, should suit the island rather than be “borrowed wholesale from somewhere else”.
However, the common features of such models are “that anybody can request any information from any Government body or affiliate, any information at all,” she stated, adding that the information had to be provided within a certain time frame or written reasons given to explain failure to do so.
I totally agree. As a Barbadian taxpayer, I should be able to ask and receive answers to questions like:
Are there any Town Planning applications on the Prime Minister’s desk, and, if so, how long have they been there? How many applications have been made for change of use of land? (In England I understand that you can go online and see all applications made and their status).                  
Was an application for change of use of agricultural land approved? Was said application refused a few years ago, but recently approved and the land now being developed? 
What does the staff of the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation (BCIC) actually do every day since the project has been in existence from about 2007, and has reportedly only this year reached the stage of final outline design and preliminary capital estimates for both phases?
Is the approximately $1 million per year BCIC staff cost justified, especially in view of announced cuts in transfers to such entities? In spite of the announced freeze on hiring in the public sector, has a new staff member been recently hired by BCIC?
Why is there still a controlled price on sugar? What was the total cost of all the consultancies on restructuring the sugar industry and how can the documents be accessed? What are the results of the research supposedly done on goats at Greenland Agricultural Station over the last number of years? Is there a list of farmers who have received the improved kids from the station? Is there a list of farmers who have received Blackbelly lambs from the station?
What is the actual level of the cutbacks made in overseas travel by ministers and public officers? Are airline tickets for the spouses of ministers being paid for by Government? What is the average size of Government delegations travelling abroad? Have there been any cutbacks in the salaries and allowances of ministers? 
Let’s pass the Freedom Of Information Act and acknowledge the right of Barbadians to freely access information.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.

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