Ronald Thwaites | 'Sensitive to the claims of confusion'
That was the awkward admission from the prime minister after relentless and informed questioning by Richard Azan regarding the taxpayer-funded $800-million election scandal. The House of Representatives was sitting in committee to review the Supplementary Estimates, and the finance minister was obviously at a loss to explain where the money was going to be found to meet the obligations of this programme. The officials from the Ministry of Finance could not help, and the situation had become embarrassing.
As appears to happen more and more often, Andrew Holness rose to deflect the heat from the minister. The money for road patching, which had been reluctantly conceded to each constituency, even after the government-held ridings had already got a big dip from the works contracted, supposedly completed and measured and, of course, paid for in the week before the local government elections, was available now, he insisted.
Sadly, responded members of the parliamentary committee examining the matter, that was entirely contrary to the evidence given by the National Works Agency. So who is speaking the truth here?
In obvious difficulty now, our prime minister insisted that there was "verifiable value for money spent" and further chided that the Opposition "should not turn the programme into a political issue".
But Sir, isn't that exactly what you did in the conception and execution of the project?
Before departing the chamber, a promise was extracted to check the Opposition's contention that somewhere between $500 million and $800 million is owing to small contractors for work long done even as cash was found for the vote-buying binge.
Dr Horace Chang was the next counsel for the defence, insisting that the rushed programme was impelled not by political considerations, but on the assessment of an emergency by the public-works officials!
Earlier in the sitting, the report (signed by all members) of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee had been accepted by the House, only to have committee member Mrs Williams, full petticoat showing, asking that the revealing phrase that the contractors for the bush-clearing programme had been "selected" by Cabinet, should read instead "sent" by Cabinet to the NWA. But why?
And Audley blushed.
His very good news was that Government does not intend to borrow from the international capital markets to fund next year's Budget and expects to have only limited recourse, to local market sources. This should mean that we are learning to live within our means.
It now takes less than half an hour after prayers for the House to descend into shouting across the aisle and sporadic disorder. The speaker finds it very difficult to remonstrate with anyone on the government side, and with the Opposition clearly recovering from the shock and sullenness of the election reversal, it will take strong and fair leadership to avoid wasted time and delayed passage of bills.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.