Dr Omar Davies may want to describe our suggestions as mere optics, arguing that no significant savings will accrue from the cutting and dicing that we are proposing. But like Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller when she was in the skin of opposition leader, we feel that the Government should not settle for tokenism, but should take monumental decisions to reduce the burden on taxpayers.
Unlike Dr Davies, we believe there is significant value to be gained in reducing the size of the Cabinet. Simpson Miller's 20-member breakfront is not only imposing, but has done very little to justify it remaining bloated. The prime minister should consider cutting not only the Cabinet, but also some of her junior ministers.
When she was the opposition leader, Simpson Miller did not miss an opportunity to demand that Prime Minister Bruce Golding cut the size of the Cabinet. On one occasion in 2009, she told Golding: "Don't come to us and ask for cooperation. You cannot ask the country for cooperation, Mr Prime Minister, when you continue to retain your mega-size Cabinet. I'm calling on the prime minister to do the honourable thing - cut the size of the Cabinet now!"
And when Golding announced a 15 per cent cut in his salary and suggested that each member of parliament take a 10 per cent cut in their pay as part of the measures to finance the 2009-2010 Budget, Simpson Miller described it as merely an act of tokenism and again suggested that a cut in the size of the Cabinet was a more desirable move.
Shoe on the other foot
With the shoe on the other foot, Dr Davies, last week, rubbished suggestions that a cut in the Cabinet should be among the measures implemented by the prime minister as the country seeks to put in place a medium-term economic programme.
"Cut Cabinet? That's optics," Davies said in the House of Representatives last Tuesday. "Former Prime Minister Golding knows that and accepted that. It's good for an editorial, it's good for a letter to the editor, but in terms of substance, what is it going to save? What is the difference of the cost of a Cabinet member and an MP? How much is that. If it is for the optics, say that's for the optics, but to put that forward as a serious solution - it is bordering on frivolous." said Davies, who is the minister of transport, works and housing.
We wonder if Davies ever told Simpson Miller that her call for Golding to cut his Cabinet was frivolous. As far as we understand - the calls and from where we come - the suggestion that Simpson Miller cut the size of her executive is grounded in her call for Jamaicans to sacrifice to ensure the economic programme succeeds. Certainly, it does not look good when an administration that has spent more than $60 million to purchase SUVs and Audi motor cars for ministers remains unresponsive to the calls for a sacrifice.
And on the matter of sacrifice, The Gavel is urging parliamentarians not to be slaves to the template of the Estimates of Expenditure and merely approve budget proposals that come before them. We think there is time for a serious line-by-line analysis of every dollar being proposed for spending and for rigorous scrutiny of the policy or conventions being undertaken.
Take, for example, the Office of the Governor General, which, this year, got $154.4 million to conduct its affairs, an increase from $92.9 million two years ago. At this time in the country's history, we must determine whether it is worth having the governor general's office as part of our governance structure and, if so, we must determine how much is a reasonable allocation.
GGs can't live like kings
It is our view that whether the country has a governor general or a president, this business of them living like kings and queens at the taxpayers' expense must end. Perhaps we should all come to the realisation that the position is so insignificant that all that is needed is for the designated personnel to be provided with an office, a stamp and a few pens. Being slaves to the ceremonial has no real value to the country.
It is often said that adversities allow for opportunity and we believe that our current economic crisis gives our legislators that chance to deeper engage their minds in governance issues. One critical area of the Budget we feel needs particular attentions is that of salaries.
Year after year, the State pays billions to compensate employees, but legislators have never been told how many workers they are paying in each agency or department, and for what service they are approving payment. We submit that this should be a critical part of analysing the Budget before passing it. Take, for example, the Office of the Governor General - $82 million of the $154.4 million which is paid by the taxpayers to fund that unnecessary office is used to pay employees. The Parliament has a responsibility to slice through allocations like these in order to ensure it is not approving mass wastage of taxpayers' money.
Another piece of optics The Gavel is concerning itself with is allocation for the upkeep of Vale Royal, the prime minister's official residence. Taxpayers, this year, paid $19.2 million for the upkeep and services at this property, nearly $9 million more than was spent for the same job two years ago. We believe there is room for a review on how much is being spent at this facility. Similarly, we believe the $13.9 million spent on the western regional office of the prime minister is a waste. The Government should consider shutting it down.
There is also a need to revisit the $13.4 million allocation for the operation of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. Andrew Holness, who now occupies this office, recently said his decision to remove some members of staff there and hire new ones was aimed at giving other members of his team exposure and income.
We are not convinced that the office should serve such a purpose.
So as the Government crafts its new Budget, we hope MPs are sharpening their scalpels with a view to removing all unnecessary burdens from the backs of the people. We know that Simpson Miller will lead the way by taking the hatchet to her executive.
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