Embedded in the house rental for Minister Simona Broomes are two important questions for the government: the basis on which decisions are made on emoluments for its senior officials and having made these decisions, whether it is prepared to be fully transparent about them.
Neither of these two questions has been answered. The answer about who fixed the $500,000 per month rental is floating in the Netherworld or it may be the case that Artificial Intelligence has already taken deep root in parts of the government and parliament office. The two persons who can clearly end the mystery have clammed up. After first speaking about the matter in answer to Stabroek News, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs has sworn off from speaking on it as, in his words, it has become “politicised”. He really means that any further disclosure may put him in hot water. It is not in the remit of Mr Isaacs to decide when it is he will no longer be forthcoming on matters of public interest. There must surely be a paper trail covering this rental. Answers will have to be provided and undoubtedly the requisite questions will be forwarded to the Parliament office. It also needs to be explained how an “administrative” decision can be made to pay a benefit that was not catered for by law.
One suspects that the Clerk would not act on any type of benefit for a minister without guidance from the Ministry of Finance. One therefore expected that the Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan would be in a commanding position to provide answers. He demurred and tossed the ball conveniently back at Mr Isaacs. The Minister of State, Mr Harmon, who is the fount of knowledge on everything in the government, declined to take up the challenge even while he complimented the answers of Mr Isaacs for their completeness when there were still many gaps to be filled in. All of the aforementioned public figures and Minister Broomes should take note that the first guiding principle of the recently gazetted Integrity Commission (Amendment of Code of Conduct) Order 2017 states that a person in public life shall be accountable to the public for his or her decisions and actions and “shall submit himself or herself to scrutiny and criticism.”
The other concern is whether the Granger administration is engaged in lavish outlays on behalf of its officials in contradiction of its attack on the ‘fat cats’ of the previous administration. Months into its tenure, the Granger administration shockingly announced a 50% wage hike for its senior ministers and lower increases for its junior ministers when none of them had yet been tested. Almost two years later, one can safely say that several them merited slight increases if any at all.
In the case of Minister Broomes and other junior ministers, their annual salaries moved to $8,346,492, an over 16% increase from the annual salary of a Cabinet minister under the former administration who was earning $6,959,412 annually. It would mean that on top of her annual salary of $8.3m, Minister Broomes was benefiting from a housing rental of $500,000 per month, totaling $6m per annum or 72% of her annual salary. This is clearly insensible and a reckless allocation of public money considering the exigencies facing the country and privations that public servants and others endure. Another minister is currently said to be accessing this same rental and two others are waiting in the wings. These rentals should be urgently reviewed and arrangements made to have Minister Broomes and others accommodated in rent-free state properties.
The practice of senior ministers of government having to be provided with rent-free housing is also inexplicable and should be ended. If they have their own homes they should live there and receive their modest $25,000 house allowance which could even be raised to a reasonable level. It would only be in circumstances where a senior minister doesn’t have their own residence that provision should be made for accommodation.
As it relates to ministerial perks and benefits, the frequent overseas trips by ministers gives cause for concern over the amount of money being spent. Ministers and other senior officials must be made to account for all expenditure and the paperwork should be carefully scrutinised by the Ministry of the Presidency and the state auditors.