Barbados in uncharted territory

Barbados Opposition Leader Mia Mottley.
Photo by George Alleyne

Barbados Opposition Leader Mia Mottley’s call for civil servants to become watchdogs of the nation’s purse and to guard against wrongful disposal of other national assets, seems an expected request in unnatural times for this island.

Barbados has been without a parliament since March 06, which coincided with the end of the five-year term of its elected members, but with there being no announced date for elections the caretaker government has $4.526 billion (Bds$1 = 50 cents US) to spend as of April 01, which marks the beginning of the 2018-2019 financial year.

This is the money parliament approved for government spending before its dissolution, and Mottley voiced concern that in the absence of elected members of the parliament there exists no one appointed by the people of the island to officially comment on whether that money is being spent correctly.

With April 1 falling on a Sunday and Monday being the Easter holiday, Tuesday effectively became the first working day of the new financial year.

“The third of April will represent the first day that this government will have the opportunity to spend from the Estimates of Expenditure approved in February of this year. And it represents a clear and present danger to us to have an executive [Cabinet] continue to function without the oversight of a parliament, and a functioning parliament,” Mottley noted on Easter Monday and added, “I ask the public servants of Barbados to remember therefore that it is you who must help to keep the government accountable.”

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has 90 days, counting from the March 06 natural dissolution of parliament in which to call elections, but while making clear that her Barbados Labour Party expects to emerge victorious and form the new government whenever the poll is held, Mottley asked the public servants, to “ensure that what we find on the day after elections is not a de-basing or a sell-out of this country’s assets and of this country’s resources.”

Barbados got into the circumstances of having a cabinet of government being authorised to spend billions of the island’s dollars with no oversight of elected parliamentarians because Prime Minister Stuart took the unprecedented step of allowing the five years since first sitting of parliament to expire without announcing an election date.

Though parliament came to a natural dissolution at the end of the five-year term, parliamentarians who are members of the Cabinet are constitutionally empowered to carry on managing the affairs of government up to the time elections winners are announced.

This means that until the elections and winners of the 30 parliamentary seats are installed, Barbados currently exists with only two of the branches of democratic government, the executive and the judicial. Parliament being the third branch, currently has no members.

“We are in dangerous uncharted territory,” Mottley said as she further stressed, “I am asking the public servants of Barbados to protect the public interest.”

“While there may be no parliament sitting that allows me or my colleagues to be able to remark on the floors of the precincts of parliament, you are in position to defend the public interest of the taxpayers of this country,” she said in her public call to civil servants, who must process any disposal of financial or other assets decided upon by the executive.

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