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New format sheds more light


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FOR THE LAST TWO DAYS of the annual Estimates debate in the House of Assembly, Barbadians were told in some detail how two ministries (at the time of writing) planned to spend the funds they are seeking in the Appropriation Bill.

The information was comprehensive, though not headlinegrabbing. But it was wide-ranging enough to give citizens keen on knowing how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent a sense of what those ministries have been doing for the past nine months, the reasons for their shortcomings and their immediate priorities.

Under the new format for the debate with ministers and their respective technocrats fielding questions on the budget for their ministries, the public was told why a hike in bus fares was imminent, and the serious challenges facing the Transport Board that are causing it to provide poor service to commuters, especially in rural districts.

People also heard in-depth information on why there has been a delay in fixing Barbados’ numerous potholed roads, and received updates on painting road signs and what is being done to mitigate flooding.

They heard, too, why community tourism was so important and how it could work. Also, what was being done to stop pirate taxis at the airport, and how taxis at the seaport would get a chance to earn more; and what was being done to attract visitors from non-traditional markets, among other topics.

And when the technocrats – who deal with the nuts and bolts of implementing policies – spoke, they elaborated in a matter-offact manner on each matter.

Yes, as anticipated, the ministers faced no yorkers or shortpitched balls from their colleagues – though St John MP Charles Griffith fired a beamer regarding the seeming discrimination against his constituents in relation to buses.

Rather, they mostly faced overs of uncomplicated, straight deliveries with a few long hops and full tosses included – like St James South MP Kerrie Symmonds asking Minister of Transport, Works and Maintenance Dr William Duguid to explain why five not-so-bad roads were repaired before worse stretches. This gave Duguid the opportunity to explain the Inter-American Development Bank agreement signed by the last administration determined which roads were to be paved first. However, Opposition Leader Bishop Joe Atherley shone in questioning why Government would be paying $14 million to consultants this financial year from the $206 000 when it came into office last May, prompting a response from Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn. He claimed the consultants would be saving taxpayers some $1 billion in debt restructuring professional settlement fees annually, over the next three years, and promised to table the appropriate documentation to put to rest concerns regarding professional fees.

Has this new format been a worthwhile exercise to date?

Notwithstanding the lack of robust inquiry in the questions posed, the public undoubtedly received more information than the usual political hyperbole under the old format, when ministers revealed little and answered few questions from the Opposition.

So, while not ideal, this new format has brought greater transparency to the Estimates.

So, while not ideal, this new format has brought greater transparency to the Estimates.