By Kiana Wilburg
Guyana’s looming oil wealth will call for a greater level of transparency and accountability. With this understanding in mind, several Opposition Members of Parliament (MP) will participate in an upcoming Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) project that will sharpen their interrogation skills.
This was revealed yesterday by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, at his weekly press conference.
The former Finance Minister said, “I had an engagement with a team from CDB. They want to do a project to improve the skills of MPs to interrogate public expenditure and I said I support it and our MPs will attend.
“What I told them however is that if the goal is greater transparency, then it is not so much the lack of training that leads to less accountability. There are other factors. The House Speaker (Dr. Barton Scotland) for one, needs to be trained to understand public expenditures, linkages and (the need to) give (MPs) enough time for interrogation.”
The former President also bemoaned the fact that Ministers provide “short” responses on questions, which require detailed answers. Overall, he agreed that the National Assembly needs to ramp up its resources so that there can be enough scrutiny on the expenditure of the nation‘s oil moneys.
The legislature of any country would have a pivotal oversight role in the oil and gas industry. But Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds, does not believe that Guyana’s Parliament is prepared for the task that lies ahead.
In fact, when it comes to the rigid transparency and accountability that would be needed for the oil wealth to come, Dr. Hinds noted that the legislature may be woefully unprepared.
He said it is not a role that the legislature is accustomed to playing, since legislators tend to be very partisan. He said that usually, it is the Opposition legislators who do the real oversight work.
The WPA Executive Member said that governing party legislators tend to be less probing of executive officials. For there to be effective bipartisan oversight, Dr. Hinds said that there will have to be a culture shift among legislators.
He said, “And I don’t see that happening in the short run. Political tribalism is too entrenched in our political culture. The extent to which the legislature would hold the executive to high levels of accountability would depend largely on the sharpness of the Opposition.
“But we also have to be careful that the Opposition legislators don’t go overboard and use their oversight to score partisan political points.”
Dr. Hinds said that he does not believe that the legislature has access to sufficient information to adequately monitor decisions, negotiations, payments and revenue movements related to the extractive resources.
“At the moment, I don’t think legislators have access to sufficient information largely due to the culture of secrecy that the executive has developed in relation to these matters. Accountable government is not part of our overall governance culture. Because the National Assembly has never asserted its oversight role in a bi-partisan manner, the executive branch gets away with a lot of unaccountability.”
The University Professor said that he is not confident in the frequency, depth, and impact of the legislature’s monitoring of the embryonic oil and gas industry.
“I think Opposition members would do their job in that regard. But I don’t think government aligned legislators would be as forthcoming. A big factor is the resources and staff to do the kind of research and heavy lifting that is needed. We have a very part-time legislature.”
The WPA Executive Member said that perhaps, it is time for the citizenry to consider having a more full-time legislature.
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