At issue and at risk is the power of the people to elect a minister of finance, repose confidence and trust in that minister of finance, react to his tax raising measures and trust that he is spending monies on their behalf.
It has long been a British constitutional convention and observance that the minister of finance should be an elected man or woman of the people, so that when he makes tax policy and excise he is fully cognizant that he is doing it on “their” behalf.
Regionally there have been departures from this rule and in some cases regional governments have opted to select the minister of finance from amongst the learned classes of Ph.D. economists and central bank career personnel, opting to place these persons in the senate enabling the appointment as minister of finance.
The idea of representation was achieved because even the senate could provide ground to debate and to represent wider policy making. It does mean that the convention is not so hard and written in stone and, just like the US example, the Secretary of the Treasury is appointed by the president, functions in a similar capacity and none of the president’s cabinet is elected.
I am hoping the former PNP regime is pleased for what they brought the people and these islands to. We will have confidence in the PS Finance, Anya Williams, and the new minister of finance. But where does the CFO fit into all of this?
These examples do not change the reality and substance of the matter for the region and the TCI. The region, which is British in origin, follows a clear format of abiding by the will of the people. In many cases this ideal was observed by appointing public figures to the ministerial offices of government. What is being proposed is a real threat to the dignity of Parliament, wherein the chief financial officer (CFO) may get to exercise functions and “power” over and above that of an elected minister.
The fact that a regional minister of finance may not have been elected was addressed in some way by making him a senator and placing him in a branch of Parliament, a somewhat "representative capacity". It does not seem to be what is being proposed here in the context of the chief financial officer (CFO) and it is suggested that his role will not be in any way representative but protective of major bad deals set in motion by the former government.
It is now being proposed that: “The minister of finance will retain the responsibility for the preparation of the Appropriation Bill, subject to CFO approval and within the financial envelope set by the CFO, and will be in a position, subject to sustainable public finances, to allocate available resources in pursuit of government policies.”
The offending words here are “subject to CFO approval”. Are they proposing that the CFO be “boss of ministers”, “boss of bosses” and in some context, “the boss of the governor”? In none of the instances above, the regional example of appointing a man to the senate or the president appointing a secretary to the treasury is this new interim government model in any way ‘precedented’, and I may add, acceptable.
It makes nonsense of the electoral process, the rage of electioneering and the concept of the ‘voice of the people”. The idea is bad, badly conceptualised, dangerous and creates ample room for conflict. It will mean that in substance, reality, effect, law and as far as the constitution is concerned the interim government will continue well after elections. We will have a stillborn government.
More importantly is the threat to democracy that this Bill presents. For a country like the UK that purports to pride itself in the principles of democracy, this action is bothersome. The most dangerous adversaries to democracy are these subtle ones, like this bill. The empowerment of a people and freedom of responsibility is all part and parcel of democracy; anything less is not true and genuine democracy.
The role of the CFO is supposedly someone to protect the guarantee and the repayment of the debt, resulting from the corrupt deals of the former PNP government, the need for the $260 million guarantee and the need in their opinion to keep taxes impossibly high.
It would mean that a minister of finance, elected or not, would not be free to cut spending, reduce taxes, provide for scholarships and/or create programs that would empower the people. He is now going to be answerable to the CFO. The minister of finance would not be able to review the deals that gave rise to the debt, seek a pathway to reduce taxes, etc.
The corrupt deals are protected by the interim government. The hospital contract and the stevedoring deal at South Dock are main examples. In the case of the hospital contract, the monies paid by government annually already give rise to increased spending: $60 million annually, mountains of debt, debt and increased taxes on the people. There are many complaints and reports on these deals and contracts but these complaints are politely and routinely ignored by the CFO and the governor.
The trouble with all of these arrangements would not be that the office of CFO is “unconstitutional” because it is already in 2011 draft of the Constitution. It is acting as an ominous warning to the next person “responsible” for finance: “Watch yourself!” The mere fact and idea is absurd and will lead to endless and useless conflict.
Like the impact of VAT and the possible collapse of the economy, a newly elected government is programmed to fail. It is like the public hearings of the Constitution, where public comment; and public feeling have all been ignored. The new model of finance, financial management and responsibility, etc. will not work. There can be no real confidence in an elected government where the CFO emerges, as is currently envisaged, as the real decision maker, the boss of the minister of finance or "a government within a government". The idea does not meet any constitutional ideal and more so it prolongs the model of the interim government so that the bad deals, corrupt burdens such as the hospital scam, the stevedoring deal, remain protected, taxes as they are continue and the basic premise of the guarantee remains.