Editorial for June 23: Working smarter

Something
happened in Finance Committee late Monday night that should be considered going
forward.

Instead
of having chief officers and key staff from the Ministries of Education and
Community Affairs down to the Legislative Assembly, Finance Committee was
handled by the ministers.  Although this
probably happened more because of the lateness of hour and the need for expeditiousness
than design, we’re sure the ministry staff appreciated not being there.

In
years past, dozens of chief officers, department heads and key support staff
have been summoned to the Legislative Assembly, made to wait hours – and in
some cases more than a day – just to be called into the chamber.  In many instances, these personnel were asked
few or no questions at all before they were released and allowed to get on with
their normal duties. In a time when government is trying to increase
efficiencies and reduce costs, it doesn’t make sense to have civil servants
waiting around for extended lengths of time, especially if they aren’t going to
be needed.

That
said, Finance Committee remains a key time for the workings of government to be
questioned, particularly by a prepared Opposition.  East End MLA Arden McLean took offence to the
fact that the civil servant support staffs weren’t available to help the
ministers answer questions late into the evening Monday.

We
do agree that members should have the ability to get their Finance Committee
questions answered satisfactorily. However, in keeping with the government’s plan
to increase civil service efficiencies, maybe it’s time to change the Finance
Committee system. 

Why
not allow ministers to answer all the questions they can, ideally with the help
of only one civil servant – the chief officer of the ministry.  If there is a question asked that cannot be
answered sufficiently, then additional civil servants – who would be on standby
– can be called in, able to arrive within a half hour at most.  In the meantime, the Finance Committee could
deal with other matters.

Just
because something has always been done one way, doesn’t mean it’s the best
way.  The government, including Finance
Committee, needs to work smarter going forward.

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