Stop talking a pack and have a PAC with real teeth
Throne Speech. The Reply. Point. Counterpoint.
Now we all understand the politics of debate in the House of Assembly. Only too well. Meanwhile, outside the legislature partisans pile on with pointed comments.
There’s a wonderful Arabic proverb that seems to sum up how it all seems to go: the dogs bark but the caravan rolls on.
No longer, please. All sides appears to be agreed that there is a cliff ahead we must try to avoid; and If there is one word that must stick out in everyone’s mind from last week’s sitting, it has to be that which was captured in the blazing headline.
The word was dropped before debate even began last Friday; the bold but frank pronouncement of the Minister of Finance, who delivered some very grim news along with a revised Budget.
His is not an enviable job; no daring understatement that.
But it would not be for any finance minister, in any administration, in any government, from any party.
He could use some support; not the cheerleading variety or the constant harping of the blame game, but rather more of the “roll up your sleeves, shoulder to the wheel” variety.
Carping on about whose fault it is — and isn’t — does not really solve the problem. The election is over, folks. What is now needed — and for a welcome change — is an acceptance of joint responsibility for addressing an issue that is of critical and crucial importance to the Government of Bermuda and the people that our government serves — and that is all of us.
The Auditor-General had laid bare the position in her annual report the week before. She found no effective or comprehensive plan for reducing the actual and accumulated debt. She expressed concern, too, about unfunded pension liabilities and growing taxpayer indebtedness. This was not news. That refrain is all too familiar.
This state of affairs has not occurred overnight. It is cumulative and it is a thread that runs through successive administrations.
Now is the time for a change in direction and joint enterprise in the legislature.
There is one parliamentary vehicle with the potential to embody this change in approach: the Public Accounts Committee.
At present, it comprises members from both sides of the aisle and is typically headed by the Opposition spokesman for finance, who now just happens to be also the Leader of the Opposition.
Here is a chance to lead.
The PAC need not be another forum to lob criticisms at the party in power. There is plenty of scope here to probe and scrutinise government spending and — this is key — come up with common recommendations and solutions.
Sadly, the PAC doesn’t seem to have been very active in recent times. The legislature website shows only one meeting, January 14, 2020 “in camera”, ie, private. No reports are posted.
There have been problems in the past fielding a quorum. End that. Amend the rules and appoint one or two independent senators and let them join in the enterprise.
If it is thought that any such work is outside the PAC’s legislated remit, change that, too.
It wasn’t that long ago, in fact, that we heard that the PAC was under review by a visiting clerk from the British House of Commons who was looking to see how our committee could be made more effective. He was reported as saying he wanted to overhaul the PAC and make it “the Queen” of our legislative committees.
Great goal: a more visible, more active PAC would be a good start.
Such change isn’t just a desirable development. It is a national imperative.