Government minister Vincent Wheatley has said words such as ‘accountability’ and ‘good governance’ have been weaponised in British Overseas Territories and continues to hinder the functionality of government.
Wheatley said ‘accountability’ has become an instrument used by the British government to “exert implicit influence” over Overseas Territories.
He shared those sentiments in a recent session of the House of Assembly while raising fresh concerns that a fear of being labelled ‘corrupt’ has gripped many public officials who are guardians of the public purse.
“I ain’t going to jail for nobody”, is the mantra chanted by many public officials whenever asked to approve financial and other resources that elected representatives need to assist the public.
“Which is a worse evil: to have relief money sitting in a bank when a majority of our people face losing their homes, can’t pay rent, can’t buy food, can’t pay bills? Or to pay out relief funds to persons who don’t need it?” Wheatley asked before saying public officials have become so fearful that resources often go to waste before they reach the general public.
“We saw it happen. We had food here after the hurricanes on the festival grounds spoiling while people were in their houses going hungry. You know why that happens? They are afraid of not knowing where something is. They would rather know where it is although it is totally useless,” Wheatley explained.
Widespread fear frustrating legislators
He said the fear of not being accountable is so widespread among public servants that elected officials are often frustrated whenever they try to get government resources to assist the public.
“Elected members are often frustrated to death, trying to do what they were elected to do. The civil servants are not afraid of us but they have a fear of doing certain things. Every minister who ever went to an Accounting Officer has heard them say, ‘Minister, you ain’t going to make me go to jail’. And all we are trying to do is to help our people,” Wheatley explained.
The minister’s criticisms of accountability in government comes amid recent cries of many business owners who said they were waiting too long to receive their COVID-19 stimulus funds under the government’s Small Business Sector Grant Relief Programme.
Wheatley as well as Premier Andrew Fahie have said the cheques were delayed because of bureaucratic processes that have followed to ensure accountability in government.
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