Upside down parliamentary democracy
The ongoing debacle in the House of Parliament over House Speaker Juliet Holness’s decision to not immediately table the auditor general’s (AG) report is a widening stain on the creature of Parliament and leaves much to be desired of the people’s representatives.
To understand the issue at hand one must first understand the institutional design of the House of Parliament. This is a space currently comprised of 63 elected officials who are obligated to meet and discuss the affairs of the nation in the spirit of transparency and accountability, two central pillars of good governance.
The decision to table the AG’s report has spanned the tenureship of the embattled former Speaker of the House Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert and the current Speaker, yet we are no closer to a resolution that allows for full disclosure and transparency to the public on this matter. Actually, the situation has worsened with the stance of the current Speaker, who has also decided not to share with the people’s House of Representatives a legal opinion that was requested of the Attorney General (the chief legal adviser to the Government of Jamaica) as to what was the proper approach to be taken.
What we are now seeing displayed in the people’s Parliament is a sort of authoritarian exhibition by the Speaker who, by her action, appears to be disregarding democratic values that have been shaped over years of common practice and have found overwhelming support from past administrations on both sides of the political divide.
It is alarming to note also that the Speaker requested and received a second legal opinion from the chief parliamentary counsel, whose said opinion referenced the opinion of the more senior Attorney General and concluded inconclusively on the matter as to the proper approach to be adopted in the tabling of the AG’s report. The question is then raised as to why one opinion would be shared to the exclusion of the other?
Also, the public must appreciate the fulsome implication of adopting in whole the legal opinion of the chief parliamentary counsel as said opinion would invariably reduce the duties of the AG to mere book-keeping rather than the usual comparative and performance-based auditing we have become accustomed to. Could it be that the AG’s legal opinion saw lines of divergence on this issue?
The Speaker of the House must resist the urge, if there be any, to find any confidence and refuge in the presence of partisan support. This would further undermine an already flawed Westminster system from whence we derive our parliamentary democracy. If the system is already flawed, then recent utterances of Government MPs will not help the situation but invariably turn our flawed parliamentary democracy upside down.
The Speaker of the House must remember her starting position in the arena of criticisms and that she needs to stay clear of decisions that have as their basis the fact that she has the power and what she says is final.
The Speaker’s decision to neither table the AG’s report nor share the legal opinion of the AG with Parliament are acts of “first impression” and do not accord well with transparency and good governance, and they may serve to further plunge her objectivity standing in the eyes of the public. She needs to walk back on them.
Joseph D Willis