House battle!

House battle!

Gov't, Opposition clash over CMU report

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Print this page Email A Friend!


TEMPERS flared at yesterday's sitting of the House of Representatives as Government and Opposition members faced off over alleged corruption at Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) and a motion seeking to censure the Speaker.

On several occasions Opposition Members of Parliament (MP) seemed on the verge of walking out of the chamber after the minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda, insisted that he had not seen the Auditor General's Special Audit Report on the situation at the university.

Samuda made the denial despite several attempts by Opposition MPs, led by its education spokesman, Peter Bunting, to have him admit that he had seen the report before it was tabled in the House.

Members on both sides ignored pleas from Speaker Pearnel Charles for order, even after he read a statement informing the MPs that the report would be tabled “forthwith” and then sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Charles, however, insisted that in dealing with the matter the House should bear in mind the constitutional rights of the individuals who have been implicated in the alleged fraud issues raised by the report, as it is a matter before the court.

He also took note of the fact that aspects of the report were already published by the media, despite the fact that it had not yet been tabled — an action which he described as “highly improper” and suggested that an investigation be pursued into the leaking of the document prior to its tabling.

“It seems to me that the matter calls for some investigation…” Charles said.

Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips rose and questioned the source of the legal advice which prompted the Speaker's response.

Dr Phillips ignored several attempts from the Speaker to allow him to finish his statement, claiming that he was ignoring legitimate concerns from the Opposition.

“Have a seat, let me speak to you,” the Speaker insisted, but Phillips, determinedly, continued his argument for the issue to be discussed.

“I shall not, Mr Speaker, because I am posing a question, and I am asking if you will share with this House the basis of the legal advice on which you have acted, or have you advised yourself?

After Phillips sat down, the Speaker attempted to move on with the House's agenda with the item “statements by ministers” to allow the minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda, to make a statement on the report. But, he was shouted down by Opposition MPs.

Phillips said that he wanted an answer as to the source of his advice to the House. Charles eventually relented, but insisted that Phillips look in his direction when he is speaking to him.

“Mr Speaker, we are not in a schoolroom, I can turn as I choose… and the question I am asking you is, are you prepared to share with the House the basis of the legal advice on the constitutional matters which you presented to the House. Did you receive advice, or did you advise yourself?” the Opposition leader insisted.

At this point, junior minister Everald Warmington rose in an attempt to make an intervention, but was rebuffed by the Speaker, who insisted that he would allow his statement to lead to a debate on the issue.

“I asking you please give me that opportunity as the Speaker of the House,” Charles urged as he tried again to move on to the next issue on the agenda.

Opposition back-bencher Ronald Thwaites (Kingston Central) took exception to Charles' statement, adding that although he had not read the report, he was disputing the Speaker's reluctance to deal with the issues, taking into account “the fullness of the media reports which are already in the public domain”.

He was supported by Opposition MP Mark Golding, who reminded the House that he chairs the PAC, to which the report is to be sent for review, and asked whether the committee was also being restricted by the Speaker's statement.

However, Charles said that the report would be dealt with as normal, and all members would have access to it.

There was another clash of opinions when Charles tried again to move on to the statement from Samuda. Opposition MP Angela Brown Burke insisted on making an input. Samuda, seemingly annoyed by the continued delay, insisted on making his statement and refused to yield.

Eventually, Brown Burke, switched to a point of order. Bunting sought clarification from the Speaker on whether his statement meant that arguments should not be prejudicial to the criminal charges brought against the former education minister.

Charles explained that he was asking the members to examine carefully the report, and to recognise that the matters are already before the court, and to deal with them as Members of Parliament.

“So it is in your hands,” the Speaker said to the members.

Samuda then rose to make his statement in which he confirmed that “several” members of the CMU's council had resigned over the weekend, following the media's reporting of matters contained in the auditor general's report on the operations at CMU over the period 2016 to 2018.

“I have had the opportunity to view sections of the auditor general's report and have since held discussions with some members of the council. Following these discussions, it became clear that it was necessary to make changes at the level of the council. As a result, most members have tendered their resignations,” he informed the House.

“We are currently putting together recommendations for a new council. Those names will be provided to the Cabinet next Monday, January 27. Once approved, the new council will hold its first meeting the following week,” Samuda said.

“I wish to assure the Parliament that, contrary to reports circulating in the media, there are no challenges currently in the day-to-day management of the university,” he added.


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive


ADVERTISEMENT




POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT