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…after move to alter Standing Orders on quorum
The A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) is accusing the Irfaan Ali Government of attempting to stymie the work of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by proposing that Standing Orders be amended.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, has submitted a Motion to amend Standing Orders No. 95(6) which deals with the quorum for the PAC to mimic that of Standing Order 83(5) for the Parliamentary Management Committee, which provides for 5 members to be a quorum of which 2 represent government, 2 represent the opposition and in which the Speaker or Deputy Speaker is the Chairman.
“It is important to note, the current quorum for a Public Accounts Committee meeting is three members, irrespective of party affiliation, this makes it vastly different from all other committees of the Parliament and provides for a more independent and apolitical environment,” Chairman of the PAC, Jermaine Figueira said during an APNU+AFC press conference on Friday.
He said though Minister Teixeira sits on the PAC, she never signaled her intention to bring such a motion to the House. The motion is expected to be read when the National Assembly convenes at the Arthur Chung Conference Center (ACCC) on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.
The APNU+AFC Member of Parliament expressed concern that the motion is being brought directly to the House, and not via the Standing Orders Committee, which, he said, is the long established and correct route to be utilized.
“It is noteworthy that none other than the Speaker of the National Assembly is the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, and he has never called a single meeting of the committee since the life of the 12th Parliament began in August 2020,” the PAC Chairman told reporters.
MP Figueira warned that should the Motion be passed, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Members of Parliament, by their mere nonattendance will stymie the functioning of the PAC, rendering it impotent and nonfunctional.
“This will impact negatively on the committees’ ability to ensure accountability and transparency in the expenditures. Since the 12th parliament, the PAC has been carrying out its mandate and meeting on every statutory date, and our work has been executed in very efficient manner.
We see this as another attempt to slow down the work of the PAC by the PPP, to ensure that fewer meetings are held, and on occasions if they do not want certain agencies examined, they can now prevent that by simply not attending PAC,” the PAC Chairman contended.
He said the Coalition is confidence now more than ever that the Government is not concerned with good governance, transparency and accountability of the country’s resources.
“We call on the Speaker to act and the people of Guyana to speak out against this deliberate act to prevent scrutiny, hinder the proper examination of national expenditures and to limit the PAC’s work to hold government and accounting officers accountable,” the PAC Chairman urged.
Weighing in on the matter, PAC Member, David Patterson, MP told the press that the motion forms part a continued effort by the PPP/C Government to stymie the work of the PAC, and represents another assault on country’s democratic institution.
“Since the commencement of the 12th Parliament, the PAC has been working diligently to reduce the backlog and bring our examination of the country’s public accounts up to date. To this end, the PAC is currently examining the 2017, 2018 Accounts, and to date, we have examined approximately 85 of the agencies in the Audit Report…It is anticipated that the examinations of 2017 and 2018 Accounts can be completed by the end of May, 2022,” MP Patterson said.
It was explained that completion of those accounts would put the PAC closer to examining those under the PPP/C Government.
He recalled that earlier this year, the PAC approved a motion for the Committee to meet twice weekly to reduce the backlog but at the very next meeting, the PPP/C MPs successfully moved another motion to revert to the old system of meeting once weekly.
“If this motion is passed, even our weekly meetings can be postponed or deferred by their mere absence. So moving forward, if the PPPC decides to boycott the PAC, the work would come to a halt,” MP Patterson warned.
He said it is important for Guyanese to note, that the PPP/C is moving to changing the rules governing the PAC at a time when Guyana is slated to have a tremendous windfall in revenue from the Oil and Gas Sector, for which the PAC would be required to scrutinize.
PAC Member, Ganesh Mahipaul, MP and Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan, MP also echoed similar sentiments. MP Mahipaul told the press that the PPP/C is scared that the PAC will expose the corruption, alleged to have taken place under its stewardship.
“We cannot tolerate this as a nation; we should not tolerate this as a nation. We are a people focused on transparency and accountability, and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) must function in the way it is, in an effort to bring satisfaction of the people of this country,” he posited, while accusing the PPP/C Administration of attempting to run from scrutiny.
“We will not tolerate it, and we will expose them on all fronts,” he assured.
Offering a historical perspective, MP Ramjattan said between 2004 and 2006, the Parliament, with support from the British, Canadians and Americans, brought in three experts to review the Standing Orders.
It was explained that experts, in their reports which were adopted by the Parliament, dealt with the modernization of Standing Orders and financial matters. He said a Special Select Committee incorporated the recommendations in the Standing Orders.
He said during that period, it was emphasized that the Chairman of the PAC remain an Opposition MP, and a quorum be three or more Members.