How can we ever find out before the next elections what money the government paid out in airport expenses? A couple of days ago, I heard Edison Baird on radio again. He was complaining that for the past several months he had been requesting information in the House of Assembly of Victor Banks, the Minister of Finance. He wanted an accounting of how much money the government had spent on re-housing the persons who had been displaced by the airport expansion project of a couple of years ago. I have heard him ask for this information several times in the House of Assembly. Each time, the Minister promises him that it will be forthcoming shortly. A couple of months pass, and Mr Baird complains again. Mr Baird has now explained why he wants this information. He has reason to believe that some favoured home-owners have been paid much more in compensation than their houses were worth. He is suggesting that there was corruption, or at least favouritism, in the way government largesse was dispensed in the airport expansion project.
You may well ask if this is the way the country is supposed to be run. Is it proper for a Member of the House of Assembly to be denied this information? No, of course not. But, what is equally sad, it seems to me, is that no one is discussing how this information is supposed to be got. This information concerns public funds. How public funds are spent is not confidential or secret information. It is supposed to be public knowledge. Mr Baird should not have to be begging the Minister to do him the favour of sharing this information with him. Mr Baird is not only entitled to this information, there ought to be the tools in place available for him to get it when the Minister stalls him. These tools are well known. They are (1) the Public Accounts Committee; and (2) the Freedom of Information Act.
This duet of tools is designed to ensure that how government spends public funds is published. The first is available only to members of the House of Assembly. The second is supposed to be available to all of us members of the public. We don’t seem seriously interested in putting these tools in place in
Why do we not have these two instruments at work in
If that is so, then Mr Baird will be quite content to continue to raise the question ineffectually. He will repeatedly suggest that there was some questionable expenditure. He won’t actually need an answer to his question. It is a political tactic, of ancient West Indian heritage, to suggest by innuendo that government has mis-spent public funds. It helps if the Minister adds fuel to the fire by not producing the information requested in a prompt and through manner. The idea is not to bring information out into the public. The real intent is to sow suspicion about the honesty and integrity of your political foes in order to gain a political advantage with discontented voters.
I would prefer it if the matter was dealt with seriously.
It is the political party that promises a Freedom of Information Act within 100 days of coming to power that I will support. It is the party that espouses an Integrity in Public Life Act and a Register of Interests for members of the House of Assembly, that I am looking for. It is the party that promises to establish the Public Accounts Committee to check on the way in which they spend public funds that will demonstrate their worthiness to govern this country. I suspect that it is only the Anguilla Progressive Party that will seriously place these on the agenda. None of the other political parties have expressed any interest in this issue.
These laws and procedures are in place all over the Commonwealth. It will take no time at all to produce suitable versions for