21 May, 2009

Airport Costs

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 Anguilla. To get a Public Accounts Committee, all that is necessary is for the members of the House to take the necessary steps to have the Speaker establish the Committee. To get a FOI Act passed, all that is necessary is for a Bill to be produced and passed into law. If the government won’t introduce a Bill, any member can do so.

Why do we not have these two instruments at work in Anguilla? Could it be because our elected politicians are not really interested in good governance? Is it that they are not really concerned whether or not public funds are being mis-spent? Am I just being cynical to think that their concern is that they are not the ones in power mis-spending public funds. In other words, might it be just that they wish that they could have been the ones with their hands on the levers of public expenditure?

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 Anguilla. A competent legal draughtsman, of whom we have several, could produce Anguillian drafts in weeks if not days.


  1. "I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Baird for making this gesture on behalf of the people of the Road North Community and I would like to thank his supporters of this area who were responsible for putting such a good man in office."
    --The Hon Victor Banks, on the occasion of Eddie handing over his first paycheck to Anglec that they might alleviate the darkness, 8 April 1994

  2. Jokes" Eddie also stated at one of his public meetings that he had given the Gov't $1000 EC to assist with fixing the lights at the Norht Hill Basket Ball Court and up to the time of his speech, the lights were not fixed either was he given an account of his money

  3. Dom, can you show a layperson the right way to go about insisting on the formation of a PAC. I for one would really like to know how our monies were spent but feel powerless to get our politicians to act for the benefit of Anguillians. What is the best way for a simpleton like me to get a resonse or harrass them into doing something?


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