Ian K Ramdhanie, msC,
The Government is not being held accountable for wasting and stealing billions of taxpayers’ dollars because Parliament is not functioning properly. So said Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley as he reiterated his call for full-time, well-paid parliamentarians. Speaking on Monday at Canaan Presbyterian School, Duncan Village, San Fernando, the People’s National Movement leader said only then would Parliament become the executive watchdog of the Cabinet.
“As long as Members of Parliament don’t get a pay increase, Parliament will not be managed and supervised properly,” he added. He said media and the opposition reports of government wrongdoing revealed but a small part of the general mismanagement of the country. He added: “What is happening is that huge amounts of money are being allocated, spent, wasted and stolen and there is no proper arrangement in the Parliament to hold people to account, because the Parliament is not functioning as a supervisory body.
“It is my estimation, by virtue of my long experience in political life of T&T, that 60 per cent of government expenditure is wasted or stolen in T&T. It is my view only 40 per cent of what is spent we get value for money on.” There are currently five parliamentary committees, consisting of ministers and opposition members, which are supposed to oversee billion-dollar expenditures.
“However,” he said, “we cannot oversee billion-dollar waste and billion-dollar corruption with part-time parliamentarians and the (Salaries Review) Commission said to Parliament, ‘We have not properly treated with parliamentarians because we have to do job evaluation to determine what parliamentarians do to determine what they should be paid.’” He said if parliamentarians were paid well they would not push to be part of Cabinet.
“Their primary income will come to them by virtue of being a Member of Parliament, which will separate them from Cabinet and then such parliamentarian, whether it is government backbencher or a opposition member, they will now hold the Cabinet accountable for the expenditure.” Noting that state-sector employees’ salaries were twice those of a parliamentarian, Rowley claimed former TV6 anchor Samantha John was working for $12,000 but her new salary at Government Information Services Ltd will now be $30,000.
Rowley also questioned why new arrangements that would add seven more committees in Parliament were being considered. “Is it that there is some conspiracy to grind the Parliament to a halt? Because if experience will show that the current arrangement cannot have five committees functioning effectively and is attempting to put seven more, making it 12 with the same part-time people and the same big Cabinet?” he asked. Parliament would not be able to function, he said.
Lamenting that T&T was running on autopilot, he said: “I can tell you this as a fact: even members of the Cabinet are now relying on investigative journalists to tell them what is going on in the government—some of them in their own portfolio.” Candice Isaac, a young girl from Diamond Village, appealed for another primary school in the area because of unavailability of spaces at the present school, Canaan Presbyterian. Rowley promised a PNM government would build the school if the present administration did not.