"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Oracle of Brunei

The former Minister of Finance has some ideas on how to address the mess that she played no small role in creating. From her Facebox feed:

Charlene Johnson
Yesterday at 2:35am · Kuala Belait, Brunei · 
There has been much discussion about the negative impacts of Budget 2016 and how it no where closely reflected the Government's election platform and there has been lots of blame tossed around. What I haven't heard a lot of - at least in the channels that I follow- are constructive ways to find savings to either reduce the deficit or undo some of the choices made in Budget 2016. In my view it would be great to hear more dialogue around that. I can start with a few suggestions. I know some people will say that I should reserve my comments because I left politics but my belief is if there is opportunity to highlight potential improvements from past experience then why not do just that. While I no longer live in NL I still care very much about it.
So here are a few of many suggestions that I have. Some will be unpopular -in fact perhaps very unpopular- but again this is only my opinion and if others weigh in perhaps we can build on these ideas and amend them to find suitable proposals to submit to government.  
1) End night sittings in the HOA. Air time is premium price at night and then there's the over time for staff. I don't know the exact figures (I was given an estimate years ago but don't recall) but it is significant and every dollar counts. Why not sit more weeks or even months if necessary. Besides the financial savings it would go a long way to attract more good people to politics in particular women. I remember doing a 43 hr session days before Christmas. It's not good for all involved- staff of the HOA, security staff, MHAs and especially their children. I offered wondered who was watching at 2am on Dec 21st anyway??  
2) Eliminate all business class/premium economy travel (if not already done) and limit the number of staff attending meetings,etc. This is not just for Ministers but for Boards and Agencies - Nalcor, Health Boards, CEOs, VPs, anyone paid by the taxpayer. The reasons for allowing business class - at least the ones that I heard- were that people needed to be rested and that others close by could see any documents you may be reading. My view - arrive a day earlier to rest and review as a hotel and meals are cheaper than a business class ticket and have your staff sit next to you so others can't see what you are reading. I used business class once paid for by government in my political career and only because it was advised medically that if I went I had to have my legs elevated due to being 7 and a half months pregnant (I had a very difficult pregnancy medically) and I was traveling to one of the territories. It was a meeting of Canadian ministers with the federal minister of environment regarding waste water regulations that would severely impact the province and I had worked on the file for some time and felt I had to put the provinces view forward. Most if not all Ministers were diligent with business class travel as far as I could tell but I passed by staff (not mine) in business class several times while I headed "to the back".  
3) Provide an allowance for accommodations and meals for MHAs from out of town. This was in place before but the changes in my view were overkill and some MHAs ended up charging significant amounts (figures need to be checked but my recollection of some examples was $30000) a year for hotels/per diems. This was within the rules but this needs to be revisited and common sense applied. I don't know how many staff are currently employed (worth checking) but when the new Green Rules came into effect my recollection is that there were upwards of 20 staff (needs verification) processing/checking/rechecking claims at a cost of $2M a year. While layoffs are never popular I believe this is an area for improved efficiency.

A Danny Williams Tory suggests further erosion of the House of Assembly and democratic oversight? Say it isn't so!

But set that aside for a minute. Yes, it's always worth looking at expenses, benefits, and perks, to see if there can't be some savings to find and some blubber to trim. Why the PCs spent a dozen years increasing the size and cost of government, instead of, y'know, delicately doing the opposite, is a mystery that will endure for generations.

But even if you cut out every dime of spending on the House of Assembly[1], even if you abolished it entirely[2], you have saved $16-million.

That is less than a single percentage point of at $2-billion annual deficit.

A fortiori, assuming you merely identify some "improvements" or "savings" within the legislature's financial habits, however laudable that goal might be, you are at most talking about hundreds or tenths of a percentage point of the $2-billion deficit that is due, in no small measure, to the profligate ways of Ms. Johnson, her predecessors, her successor, and her colleagues between 2004 and 2015.

If a former finance minister cannot grasp the true size of the fiscal problem; if a former finance minister cannot entertain the serious, and tough measures, that would have to be taken, short of a deus-ex-machine economic and fiscal surprise, to bring the public finances back into something resembling balance; if a former finance minister can only propose populist tinkering around the edges that results in cost-savings with less fiscal impact than a few cents' fluctuation in the price of Brent crude or the exchange rate, then what hope is there for the public at large?

[1] For a whole bunch of reasons, you can't do that.

[2] Seriously, you can't.


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