House to probe last week's controversial PAC meeting

Senior Staff Reporter

Monday, December 17, 2018

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SPEAKER of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles has confirmed that he is looking at setting up an investigation into last week's controversial meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House on the Petrojam issue.

Charles told the Jamaica Observer that based on a statement to the House of Representatives last week by Prime Minister Andrew Holness urging him to either appoint a committee or seek independent support to investigate whether the meeting was improperly held by the Opposition, he would be meeting with the clerk and legal counsel at Gordon House to discuss how to proceed.

The matter was highlighted in the House of Representatives when Government and Opposition traded insults last Tuesday afternoon over whether the meeting, which was called by Opposition Member of Parliament and PAC chairman Mark Golding to question staff of the Petrojam oil refinery about recent revelations of corruption at the refinery was properly constituted.

The Observer has been reliably informed that the speaker decided to call the meeting with the staff this morning, after being informed of a message sent to Leader of Government Business Karl Samuda by the parliamentary staff, advising him that the PAC meeting was not properly constituted.

It is understood that after being advised by the clerk to Parliament that the meeting was not properly constituted, Samuda had questioned why it was allowed to continue if that was the case. The clerk immediately withdrew her staff from the meeting, bringing it to a premature end, which led to charges of Government abuse of power by the Opposition.

Golding claimed that Parliament had properly communicated via e-mail that five members of the PAC had indicated that they wished to meet, and five did not, and that his vote had tipped the votes in favour of the meeting. However, the committee comprises seven Opposition members and eight Government members.

Golding also contended that government MPs Juliet Holness, Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, and Leslie Campbell had sent in apologies for absence. But Cuthbert Flynn denied on Tuesday that she had sent an apology.

She explained to the House that she had earlier informed the staff that she would not be able to attend any PAC meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning, as Government MPs had been invited to a caucus meeting to be held at the same time.

“I did not receive a notice in my e-mail, up to this morning, that there was a PAC meeting scheduled for today [Tuesday]. When I looked at the (House) agenda there was another meeting scheduled for Parliament at 10:00 am, and it was not the PAC meeting, and so I am wondering and baffled as I sit here. I want to know who sent in an apology for me?” Cuthbert Flynn insisted.

Government MP Everald Warmington noted that the only communication he had received was about a meeting of the Economy Production Committee, which he was later informed would not be able to meet Tuesday morning. He also questioned how the matter could have reached the point of a casting vote from the PAC chairman.

But Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips said that he did not see the point of a quarrel over the controversial staging of the meeting, as the “substance of the matter” was the issues affecting Petrojam.

He noted that “insulting and unparliamentary words” had been exchanged between both sides on the issue during last Tuesday's sitting of the House, because of what he described as “a procedural difference”.

He said that it was his understanding that the House committees operate with some measure of autonomy regarding their ability to set the times for their meetings. However, he said that he too would also seek the speaker's guidance.

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