MPs clash over conduct of PAAC meetings

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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THERE was a two-and-a-half-hour wrangle between Government and Opposition members inside Gordon House yesterday as the MPs butted heads at a meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).Government members tried to push Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill to put to a vote whether the committee should adjourn the meeting, pending legal advice on the Standing Orders governing committees, and the way the bodies should conduct their work.

The Clerk to the Houses recently issued a memo, on the instructions of the Speaker of the House, reminding them about referring to the Standing Orders governing the work of the committee, and advising, among other things, that decisions on matters such as agendas should be taken by a majority of a committee's membership.

The Government members were adamant that the committee continued to carry out its work in an ad hoc manner and that proceedings need to be streamlined for the benefit of parliamentarians, and the civil servants who appear before them weekly.

Opposition members said the discussion, which occurred while senior officials from the Office of the Prime Minister, National Environment and Planning Agency and the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) waited outside the chambers, was an attempt to thwart the work of the committee.

Member of Parliament for St Catherine North Eastern Leslie Campbell became irate during the deliberations, which saw the MPs snapping back and forth.

“No convention can trump this Standing Order. If you are using the wrong procedure, you are breaking the law…it is clear that my colleagues are being disingenuous…you are expected in these circumstances, chairman, to make a ruling and rule according to the rules that should guide us. In these circumstances, I will ask you to move a motion for us to adjourn these proceedings pending the determination by the House committee as to what is the appropriate application of the rules in those circumstances,” Campbell insisted.

Manchester North West on MP Mikael Phillips argued that Government members were again trying to prevent the PAAC and the other oversight committees — all of which are chaired by Opposition members — from carrying on with their work.

“I am disappointed in Government members of the committee…I ask the question of member Campbell…why not then as a member of the committee and a member of the House seeing the shortcomings in the Standing Order himself did not refer this to the Regulations Committee of Parliament? It is just another instance of trying to disturb the flow of the committee…week after week they have come here to try and stop this committee and the committees from doing their work, and this is another ploy,” Phillips stated.

He further argued that despite the difference in opinions on the interpretation of the Standing Orders, this did not negate from the committee's responsibility to examine the budgetary allocations of the ministries and departments that appeared before it.

This was the third occasion on which the UDC had shown up to answer questions, having left the first two times without being heard, and then having the discussions suspended on the third occasion, for continuation this week.

There were eight Government members present and four Opposition members, but the call from Campbell and St Andrew East Rural MP Juliet Holness for a vote was not adopted. Holness had argued that committee Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill had decided on agenda matters, without the agreement of the majority of members.

Meanwhile, McNeill outlined that for good governance and transparency, the committees of the House are chaired by Opposition members because Government cannot have oversight of itself. He pointed out that despite its agenda, the committee must examine matters that arise in the public sphere that are germane to efficiency and the proper running of Government.

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