Refreshing change to Estimates
THIS WEEK’S ESTIMATES DEBATE has been a gold mine for journalists.
I must confess that as someone who in my earlier days as a young reporter covered Parliament, and who in my current role still has to monitor the proceedings in the House of Assembly, the new format I witnessed this week was a welcomed change from what we have grown accustomed.
It certainly was a far cry from the days when individual parliamentarians would stand for half-hour on the floor of Parliament, or sometimes even longer, going through a checklist of all the things they had done in their ministries and pounding their chests with pride.
Parliamentarians also took a huge chunk of their allotted time to give a report card on what they had done for their constituencies.
I believe this outdated format has run its course and perhaps serve its purpose. It is time ministers and parliamentarians are held accountable and forced to show what they are doing not only in their respective ministries, but for those they were elected to represent.
Not just a talk show, but tangible
by Managing Editor
[email protected] @carol_nationbb
evidence that steps are being taken and things are being done.
I will not drill down into the substance of the debate, but focus on the format.
It was, however, refreshing to hear the plans for Sam Lord’s Castle, and for tourism as a whole. Then, finally, Government addressed the issue of rising bus fares.
On Monday, I watched the new format of the Estimates debate where the technocrats, along with the minister responsible, were seated in the “Well”. It was also the first time the public was able to see first hand some of the key officials who play a critical role in the various ministries.
For example, Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds had his key people around him, including Permanent Secretary Donna Cadogan, Stuart Layne, William “Billy” Griffith, Dr Kerry Hall, Marsha Alleyne and Neville Boxill.
As a journalist, I have never heard so much information spew so freely from the mouths of technocrats and even the various ministers in the Well.
It was a welcomed change from the frequent “no comment”, or “I have nothing to say”, or unreturned phone calls that journalists encounter so often in the pursuit of stories.
This format, which is already in place in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, is new for Barbados. In the early part of the proceedings, it showed.
For example, Government backbencher Ralph Thorne posed his three questions to the Minister of Tourism consecutively and was hurried along by Chairman of the Standing Finance Committee, Dr Sonia Browne. The answer from the minister was just as hurried.
He was the first to point out that the process could not be one that was just an “academic exercise”, but must be meaningful and make sense to the public.
I couldn’t agree more with Thorne, who was making great points about the tourist belts in his constituency, particularly St Lawrence Gap, Dover and Oistins.
Thankfully, the chairman was able to correct this matter and the guidelines that governed the new process became clearer. That meant the process flowed a lot smoother and it was interesting to see and hear ministers question their colleagues on information that I am sure they would have been privy to before.
Parliamentarians were able to ask three questions, one at a time, while the minister in the chair would have five minutes to respond to each question.
While I welcome the new format, the rules cannot stifle the wealth of information that must be shared with the members of the public.
This was the working of a true democracy, I believe.
While Leader of the Opposition Bishop Joseph Atherley did his best in Parliament taking on the Government during the Estimates, I could not help but think if there were a strong Opposition force, what a difference that would have made.
For sure, the sessions would have been peppery.
MINISTER OF TOURISM Kerrie Symmonds (centre) and his team during the New for Barbados