“Why is a Government which says it is committed to transparency proposing to make it more difficult for citizens to access information from official sources?
“[…] [And] why, at a time of economic belt-tightening and obviously rising unemployment—whatever the official pronouncements on that issue—does the government consider it a good idea to raise pensions for certain officeholders whose emoluments are already well in excess of the country’s norm, at the expense of other taxpayers and of certain pressing social needs?”
The following is a joint statement by attorney Martin Daly SC and former ambassador and head of the public service, Reginald Dumas, on their grave concerns with the Government’s Miscellaneous Provisions Bill:
The Government is doing an extraordinary thing. It has lumped unrelated items together in a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. At least two of the items have constitutional significance and they all concern matters of high level significance or consequence.
We refer to the Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill, 2019, which raises several important questions.
Firstly, why should there be a Bill embracing so many disparate subjects? Why are pensions lumped together with non-profit organisations? What does freedom of information have to do with finance?
Secondly, why is this Bill deemed a Money Bill? Is it intended craftily to limit the powers of the Senate to consider the Bill—which has content other than the raising and expenditure of revenue—in accordance with the limitations under which the Senate receives Money bills as prescribed by section 64 of the Constitution?
Is the approval of the Senate for this Bill to be treated as irrelevant? This is surely a constitutional aberration.
Thirdly, why is a Government which says it is committed to transparency proposing to make it more difficult for citizens to access information from official sources?
If the Freedom of Information Act has not over the years worked as well as hoped, would it not be more logical to identify its operational flaws and seek to correct them rather than simply grasp an advantage for the State by extending the period for replies to certain requests from 30 days to effectively 180 days?
Fourthly, section 141 (1) of the Constitution confers on the Salaries Review Commission the power to review the salaries and conditions of the office holders mentioned in the Bill. Are the Bill’s proposals based on such a review, or has the Commission been bypassed—meaning that the Constitution has been ignored?
Fifthly, we have several questions concerning the raising of the pensions of a chosen few. Why, at a time of economic belt-tightening and obviously rising unemployment—whatever the official pronouncements on that issue—does the government consider it a good idea to raise pensions for certain officeholders whose emoluments are already well in excess of the country’s norm, at the expense of other taxpayers and of certain pressing social needs?
And also to guarantee revisions—upward, certainly—every five years? Also, what of other former officeholders who have worked hard and conscientiously for the country but whose pensions remain low and static?
What message is being sent to the less well-connected members of the population?
Sixthly, section 56(1) of the Central Bank Act, which the Bill intends to amend, obliges ‘every director, officer and employee of the Bank (to) preserve and aid in preserving secrecy [regarding] all matters relating to the affairs of the Bank’ etc. Why would the Minister of Finance now wish to have information on the number and salaries of Bank officials, the Bank’s organisational structure, and, more broadly, ‘such other matters relating to the employment of staff as the Minister thinks fit?’
Is it the intention of the Government to move towards having the Central Bank become a department of the Government?
We remain with an overall impression that legislative craftiness and stealth are at work, given the haste with which this legislation is being treated; and when one considers the significance of the items thrown together as a miscellany of provisions.