Following intense debates National Assembly passes motion to strengthen PAC
The National Assembly on Wednesday passed a motion to strengthen the inner workings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by making it mandatory for both sides to be present to form a quorum before decisions can be made.
The motion which amended Standing Order 82, was brought by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, M.P.
The PAC is made up of nine members; five from government and four from the opposition.
The Standing Order was amended by inserting immediately after paragraph (3), the following paragraph – “(4) A quorum shall be five (5) members, two (2) representing the government, two (2) representing the opposition and the chairperson.”
Prior to the amendment, only three members were required to form a quorum from either side of the house.
Minister Teixeira said the PAC is where government spending is scrutinised. The minister explained that the measure was introduced to ensure no decision is made unless all members are present, stressing that it is no attempt to delay the work of the committee.
“The issue is the quorum being amended is not harmful, it will in fact make sure both sides always have two on each side, you do not have to have everybody but you have to have two on each side to ensure the work goes forward… this will enhance the way in which we operate in the Parliament. It is not harmful to anyone.”
The notion that government is afraid of being scrutinised was rubbished by the minister. She pointed out that the years under scrutiny are 2017 and 2018 for which the previous administration was in power.
“This is not an issue of this government being afraid of being scrutinised, you cannot say that because we are not at this government’s expenditure from October 2020 forward. But what it attempts to do is ensure in the Public Accounts Committee there is recognition on both sides, that the government side has an interest to make sure that when expenditure comes up and examined that it is there to see it and participate in it just as it is the right of the opposition to be there, and to do what they have to do,” Minister Teixeira stated.
The minister said she finds the push back by the main parliamentary opposition strange, since it was the same opposition that gave itself a majority in the PAC following the 2011 elections and reversed it when that party became government in 2015.
Minister of Public Works, Bishop Juan Edghill M.P, in support of the motion, said the PAC is a bipartisan body that seeks to strengthen accountability and transparency and make strong recommendations to protect the public’s purse.
This, he said, is something that is missing from the current PAC. Minister Edghill pointed out that government had to resort to the National Assembly to remove a chairman from the PAC, who abused privileges, and suppressed views of members of the government side.
He further noted that government had to enforce a rule to remind the current chairperson that decisions are not made by the chairman, but by the committee.
Minister Edghill asked, “Is there any right taken away? The answer is no. Would this motion prevent scrutiny? The answer is no. As a matter of fact, it will enhance scrutiny. If members of a previous government sit alone, examining their own record that many of them participated in, in the current context where members are making excuses for accounting officers and government is not present, well then you know that will not enhance scrutiny, that will prevent scrutiny.”
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Mohabir Anil Nandlall S.C, M.P, explained that a quorum is to ensure that there is the minimum possible and widest participation at a meeting.
“Applying that principle, why is it in a parliament that you have two large parties you do not want equilibrium in the representation at the most minimal level? What is the rationale for that?” the Attorney General questioned.
The AG noted that enough time must be spent to scrutinise the spending by government to ensure there is transparency and accountability. He then alluded to the infamous drug bond that was rented by the previous administration to store pharmaceutical drugs, among other spendings.
“We have the vote; we have decided this is the way it has to go. We want a public accounts committee that has greater bipartisanship and we are moving in that direction. I do not see all the sinister motives and the ulterior intent that is being ascribed to this motion. I see a simple motion to change the configuration of the Public Accounts Committee so that it can achieve greater accountability, it can do its work with greater circumspection and care that the work deserves and it will bring greater inclusivity in our democracy,” the Attorney General said.
The motion was also supported by several other government MPs.