The Blind Leading The Blind? Who is Leading The Ministry Of Finance?

A dagger of immense proportions was driven through the heart of our Constitutional arrangements last Thursday night, when for close on 90 minutes of prime time television, Senator Darcy Boyce, and as such, an unelected member of Parliament, and Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, lead spoke to the country on matters of finance!

I have no problem with the senator exercising his freedom of speech, but the same Constitution which enshrines the Senator’s freedom of speech also limits his rights, as a member of the Senate, in relation to “money matters”, whereas Members of the House of Assembly are not so limited.

As the senator spoke, certain questions troubled me: why was an “unelected” senator lead speaking to these issues? And where was acting Minister of Finance Mr Freundel Stuart or Economics Affairs Minister Dr David Estwick both elected MPs?

Since when does an “unelected” senator have constitutional propriety to “open the batting” on financial matters?

Little wonder that Miss Geralyn Edward of the Barbados Business Authority asked: Who is leading the Ministry of Finance? It is a question of major constitutional import, and David Ellis’ follow-up question: “Who is?” potently reinforced the point! Let us look at it!

Now our House of Assembly is patterned on the House of Commons, and our Constitution, mirrors that fact. The Commons owes its origins to demands by the ordinary folk, the commoners (as distinct from the Lords), that before the King could tax them; they too needed their own “House”  so as to be able to make “representation before taxation”.

The House of Lords was already in existence but only the dukes, earls, marquesses, viscounts, barons and the like . . . the aristocracy had voice there.

Professor Ogg captures the point in his book English Government and Politics. He writes: “The King needed parliamentary grants and support otherwise Parliament would not have been brought into existence in the first place. Thus did that mighty lever, the power of the purse pass into parliamentary hands, and thus was the so called ‘lower’ branch of all later legislatures put in the way of securing its well known primacy in finance.”

So much for the history, now to our Constitution.

The Constitution

Section 108 commands the Minister of Finance to have Annual Estimates prepared and laid before the House of Assembly.

The principle of representation before taxation is thereby enshrined in our Annual Estimates debate which compels Government Ministers (latter day kings) to answer complaints in the House about how they have been managing or mismanaging their departments, before the House of Assembly by its vote allows them to “appropriate” the required monies to run their departments for the new financial year.

Section 109 of the Constitution says that the Minister of Finance shall in respect of each financial year . . . introduce in the House of Assembly an Appropriation Bill . . . containing the estimated aggregated sums which are required to be expended during that financial year!

This section (109) makes it clear, or at the very least implies that the Minister of Finance must be a Member of the Lower house. for how else could a Minister of Finance introduce the Appropriation Bill in the House of Assembly unless he was a member thereof. Sections 108 and 109 are entrenched provisions.

But there is more! Sections 54 and 55 of the Barbados Constitution restrict the role of the Senate in money matters. Section 54 (2) says that money bills cannot be introduced in the Senate. Moreover, if the Senate tries to hold up a money bill passed by the House of Assembly and sent up from the House of Assembly, and does not pass it without amendments within one month, then according to Section 55, unless the House of Assembly otherwise resolves, Government shall send the Bill directly to the Governor General for his assent, and once assented to; it thereby becomes law even without the Senate’s approval.

Control of taxation

The upper-hand constitutional control of taxation and revenue and expenditure matters by the House of Assembly is thereby ensured.

All these provisions are designed to embed into our Constitution, the primary role of the lower House, to definitively control the purse strings and  financial policy and to ensure that the Senate cannot over rule the House of Assembly in money matters.

The Lower (elected) House is boss, and under our system of governance, the Minister of Finance has always been and,  must be a member of the House of Assembly.

It is constitutionally wrong for a senator to lead speak on financial matters.

Unique constitutional duties

It is true that Senator Boyce made it clear that he was the Minister of State and not the minister, but given the unique constitutional duties attaching to the raising and spending of money by the Minister of Finance, and his (Senator Boyce’s) status as an unelected Senator, one wonders why he found it necessary to hold a press conference.

One of the ancient privileges claimed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly is the right to have control over financial matters. Hence the constitutional importance of the question posed: Who is leading the Ministry of Finance?  It cannot be Senator Boyce. It is a question which arises out of an unnecessary press conference, but it is now alongside the pestle in the mortar.

Is there more?

•Ezra Alleyne is is an attorney at law and a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.




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