Premier stands by her record as Finance Minister
Premier Paula Cox has defended her handling of the Finance Ministry during the Ewart Brown administration saying, as Finance Minister, she often pushed back on excessive spending demands.
Ms Cox is frequently criticised because she was Finance Minister during the administration of her predecessor, Ewart Brown, when many believe that the public purse was frequently mismanaged and there was an obscene waste of taxpayers money. But the Premier suggested in a recent interview that things could have been worse had she not been doing her job.
Asked if she pushed back against excessive spending demands under the Brown administration, she said: “Under Brown’s administration, or under any administration, on budget issues yes. Yes. What you see is what is. What you don’t see is what could have been.”
The comments came toward the end of a 40-minute interview on Sunday afternoon at Cabinet Office. The Premier was relaxed and confident throughout the interview one of a steady stream of appointments that afternoon.
When asked to characterise the relationship between Finance and the rest of Cabinet, she said that it was one of collective responsibility. “Ministry of Finance is the allocator and decider in terms of how much is allocated to the Ministries from a budgeting point of view. Ministers are the managers of allocated funds.”
But she said she did not necessarily agree with the view that it should be antagonistic. “But most Ministers would say that is more the sort of relationship because the Minister of Finance and the Ministry of Finance could push back and don’t let them do what they wish to do,” she said.
“What is interesting is the radical transformation of some who talked about debt and rising debt, who as Ministers now want to spend.”
Asked why she retained the Finance portfolio, Ms Cox said: “Too much is required right now of the Finance portfolio in terms of Treasury, and part of the decisions that have to be made in terms of proper debt management and fiscal prudence. It’s very important for stability that I retain that portfolio.”
She added: “I have divested myself of the more sexier parts of the Ministry, regrettably, like the economic development corporation. And I’ve also divested myself of the Registrar of Companies and the Business Development aspects, so it’s a much more streamlined portfolio. But you don’t shirk responsibility just because it’s difficult. It would have made my job as Premier an easier one but with all the new innovations within the Ministry of Finance both with Procurement, good governance and also the medium term framework as well as open budgeting, I think it was important for there to be consistency”.
She said the frequent criticism that she was in charge of the purse strings during the Brown administration is “more the issue that the Opposition trots out. I think most people appreciate the distinction between capital works, Ministry of Finance and also what ‘first among equals’ is. I think most people had great reassurance and confidence because I was in the Ministry of Finance. I don’t subscribe to the propaganda by those who seek to diminish me. I think most will tell you that the confidence they had, and have, in the Government is because Paula Cox retains Finance.”
And as to the reasons why the voters should return the PLP to power, Ms Cox said: “We are their best opportunity for seeing their dreams realised. The PLP has always been consistently a party that believes in social and economic justice and also for providing meaningful opportunities for Bermudians. And our track record speaks to that”.
“What’s important is to talk about the track record,” she said when it was put to her that her political opponents use the same rhetoric. “Anybody can say anything, but what you do is you look at the track record of providing the opportunities in terms of the Economic Empowerment Zone and you look at the poetry, not just the prose, of what the PLP has done to safeguard and assist those who have been faring not so well whether we are talking about things like the outgrowths and the by-products and policy outcomes from Mincy and what we need to do to redress, whether you are talking about child day care. Whether you are talking about how we have seized the nettle on a number of fronts which have not necessarily been popular. And you also look at how this Government doesn’t shirk from transparency.”
The Special Development Order Act, which did away with SDO applications being decided by Ministerial decree, was another example of her administration’s commitment to transparency, she continued. “We’re not afraid of criticism, we’re not afraid of protests. We welcome that. But we do believe in transparency, and we are the hope for the future.”
As a final question
The Royal Gazette asked her how the PLP could keep connected with, and represent working class interests when many of the leaders could no longer be described as working class.
“I would be very surprised if you can find people in the party with a silver spoon in her mouth,” Ms Cox said. “I certainly am not.” Ms Cox was legally trained and worked for many years in the insurance industry. She said she still drives the same car her father drove, and remains connected to working class interests through canvassing, her background and experience.
“My background and my friendships and my daily experiences. I suffered as everybody else has from racism and everything else and having to struggle to put myself through university,” Ms Cox insisted. “Nobody just handed me a million dollar scholarship. I had to work. Anything I have is because of hard work, not because I inherited or somebody was Lady or Lord Bountiful. Worked. Worked.”