The Opposition APNU+AFC today expressed grave concerns over what it says is the government’s attempt to block scrutiny of its spending for the years 2020 and 2021.
When the National Assembly meets next Wednesday, the Government will be seeking to amend Standing Order 95 (6) which deals with a quorum for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The current quorum for the Public Accounts Committee meeting is three members irrespective of party lines.
But the amendments, the Opposition noted, will require five persons to be present to form a quorum.
The five will have to consist of two members of the Government, two members from the Opposition, and the Chairman. The Opposition said the move would mean that if Government members fail to show up for a meeting, no meeting could take place.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Jermaine Figeuria said he was taken aback when he saw the motion on the order paper since it was never discussed at the level of the PAC.
“The Members of Parliament for the APNU+AFC note with alarm that this matter has never been discussed at the level of the PAC, although the mover of the motion is a member of the said Committee. And this motion is being brought directly to the House and not via the Standing Orders Committee which is long established and correct route is of great concern,” Figeuria said.
Former Chairman of the PAC and current member, David Patterson has viewed the proposed amendments as an assault on democratic principles.
He observed that the government is bringing the amendments on the same day that it is proposing the names of persons to sit on the Natural Resource Fund Board.
Patterson said the PAC has been moving apace to reduce its backlog and the Opposition suspects that the government has noticed that the Committee will begin scrutinizing its spending for the years 2020 and 2021 and is attempting to block or stymie the work of the committee with the new amendments.
“If this motion is passed, even our weekly meeting can be postponed or deferred by their mere absence. So going forward, if the PPP decides to boycott the PAC, the work will come to a halt,” Patterson said.
Opposition Member of Parliament Ganesh Mahipaul who is also a member of the Public Accounts Committee said any explanation given by the Government for the proposed change will not hold, since the current arrangement has been in place for over fifty years.
“They don’t want the country to basically know about all the corruption that we have unearthed and all the corruption that the Auditor General has unearthed and bringing greater clarity to our country for them to see what is really happening with the People’s Progressive Party,” Mahipaul noted.
The rules of the PAC have been treated separately from those of other committees.
It is the only committee that guarantees that the Chairmanship goes to the Opposition and a quorum currently in place ensures that neither the government nor the Opposition can stymie the Committee’s work.