Amidst the public uproar over the Government's announced salary increases for Members of Parliament and members of the Cabinet, I find myself reflecting on the role of Parliament's Standing Finance Committee in studying and reviewing the estimates of expenditure, that is, the budget.
If the Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding is to be believed, the parliamentary Opposition had no knowledge of the quantum of the increases until the Minister of Finance Nigel Clarke's presentation in the House of Representatives. Despite being kept in the dark, the Opposition had no objections to the increases before the inequity and wickedness belatedly dawned on them as a consequence of the public's outrage.
The Opposition's shocking admission leads me to question how seriously the Standing Finance Committee, a committee comprised of all 63 Members of Parliament, approached the task of reviewing the annual budget and interrogating the various ministries for explanations and justifications of their proposed expenditure.
If the task is approached with the rigour it deserves, I presume expenditure on salaries for the 2023/2024 budget would be significantly higher than that for 2022/2023 and 2021/2022 and the peoples' representatives, who are zealously protecting the interest of taxpayers, would require an explanation for the increase. Of course, I am taking it for granted the estimates are presented in a format which compares the current year's expenditure with that of previous years.
If the increased expenditure on salaries was questioned, it is possible the Opposition Members of Parliament would not have been caught off guard by the increases in their salaries. The prime minister may be onto something when he speaks of the increased salaries attracting a higher calibre of parliamentarians as the need appears dire.
We definitely need serious and observant parliamentarians to examine the budget and ask probing questions to understand the country's finances and ensure our tax dollars are spent in the most effective and efficient ways.
Too often images in the media depict some parliamentarians paying little, if any, attention to proceedings in Gordon House only to bang desks on cue.
Notwithstanding Opposition MPs being in the dark about the exorbitant increases and the call for reversal, save for the leader of the Opposition, there seems to be little enthusiasm among them to reject the increase.
I guess we will just have to wait to see how this latest episode of our political soap opera plays out.