Government is preparing to pay out as much as $21 million to consultants by next financial year, a gigantic leap from the $206,000 it found coming into office in May 2018. Money allocated to professional fees in the current Estimates are skyrocketing to $14 million this year and then by an other $7 million by the end of 2020.
The glaring change was highlighted by Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley in today’s first session of the Estimates debate in the House of Assembly.
“If you look at the Estimates relative to the Ministry of Finance, these Estimates show a movement from last year, $206,000 for professional services . . . fees paid to consultants . . . to $4 million when this administration came to office and completed that financial year.
“In the current Estimates, it’s being proposed [that] professional fees . . . fees paid to consultants . . . be moved to $14 million; and these Estimates also suggest that next year, there is a projection to move these professional services’ fees to $21million,” he declared.
But in his intervention Straughn stoutly defended the level of fees being paid to the debt restructuring advisors by this Government as he responded to concerns expressed by the Opposition Leader regarding professional fees for consultants.
He said the Mia Mottley Administration will be saving taxpayers some $1 billion in debt restructuring professional settlement fees each year, over the next three years.
As the House opened debate on the 2019-2020 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure under the head of Tourism and International Transport, Atherley told the newly-established Standing Finance Committee of his misgivings on the level of fees.
While the Opposition Leader said former Prime Minister Owen Arthur earned his pay for the “sterling service” he continues to render to the people of Barbados, he was worried about the amount of taxpayers’ money being given to state consultants.
But Minister Straughn explained: “The fees referred to previously in this session . . . I just want for the clarity of this Chamber, to understand that the Government of Barbados, certainly in the next financial year will be saving almost $1 billion in both interest and amortization; and that will be the case in 2019-2020, in 2021-2022 and in 2022-2023.
“In addition to that, our consultants are also renegotiating all of the egregious contracts that would have been agreed to under the previous administration at many of the state-owned enterprises, such that the monies that they are paying these individuals are worth the work that they are doing for the benefit of the taxpayers of this country,” Straughn told the Chamber.
He also gave the assurance that later in the sitting he would table the appropriate documentation which should lay to rest any questions or concerns regarding professional fees.
The Opposition Leader had also raised concerns over the $306,000 proposed in the current Estimates for the hiring of an environmental consultant and a social consultant under the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport.
In response, Minister Kerrie Symmonds said that “every cent” of that money is a requirement under a US$20 million loan from the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) for a tourism enhancement project for Barbados.
“While the project is financed by a US$20 million loan from the IDB, there are requirements under the programme that there be consultants who are brought in with a view to making sure that the project is executed in a satisfactory manner,” he told the Standing Finance Committee of the House.
“The fact of the matter is that every cent of that money that the Honourable Member speaks to is made necessary, not by us, but made necessary as a result of the arrangements which we are entering in with the IDB in order to get a loan of $20 million. And if we are going to fund [a project] to the tune of US$20 million, the opportunity for us to develop tourism projects in Oistins and in Bridgetown, then Honourable Member, I am going to respectfully submit to you that the cost of paying a few consultants $300,000 is not exhorbitant or disproportionate because we cannot get value for nothing,” the minister contended.
In a further move to strengthen its case for the merits of the IDB-funded project, the Government took advantage of the new House rules which allow Members of Parliament to question Cabinet Ministers about their stewardship while permitting the Ministers’ technocrats to sit beside them in a special area of the Chamber and answer questions as well.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and International Donna Franklyn was one of the first technocrats to speak, explaining that the IDB project would initially involve the setting up of a visitors’ centre at the Old Town Hall in Bridgetown.
“The IDB national tourism programme is going to be a project which will see the enhancement of certain areas in Bridgetown specifically; that is where the project will be starting,” Franklyn said.
She explained that the centre will provide services to visitors who come primarily from the Bridgetown Port.
“The visitors’ centre will be there to give visitors direction in terms of attractions and information, interpretive information on historical Barbados and that sort of thing,” she added.
The PS said the IDB programme will primarily be based on cultural and heritage tourism.
“And these two consultants that you are asking about, they are the ones who would be looking at the social assessment of the entire project as well as the environmental assessment of the project,” Franklyn told the House.
She revealed that the project will extend to the Oistins Beer Garden where the physical conditions would be enhanced as well as to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society resulting in refurbishment of the car park area.