Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley has formally requested the House of Assembly to rule on a major procedural issue impacting the functioning of the Public Accounts Committee she chairs.
Last week PAC members approved a series of rules to govern their work, including the taking of evidence before passing a resolution asking for the Lower House to approve it. Today, the St. Michael North East MP told the House that a special report had been circulated to all 30 sitting MPs for a determination in respect of Standing Order 61 “which states that no evidence shall be published in any format”.
“There is potentially a conflict between this and the Public Accounts Committee Act, which says that the evidence of the Public Accounts Committee shall be heard in public,” Mottley explained.
“But for the avoidance of doubt and rather than going to the lengthy and expensive route of seeking legal opinion we have determined that we will seek the guidance of the Honourable House of Assembly to determine whether this Standing Order can be waived as has been done in the United Kingdom and other Parliaments.
“And if that is the will of the House, then the Public Accounts Committee evidence can be published, if it is not the will of the House then the Public Accounts Committee evidence shall not be published until such time as a report is laid in the Honourable House of Assembly.
“But the consensus of the PAC is that it will be bound by the will of the House of Assembly so that at the appropriate time the House will have to take the necessary vote … and we will be bound by this,” she added.
The Opposition has said the PAC Act, which mandates public hearings should be the primary law referred to in the context of PAC evidence taking.
But Government members on the committee, led by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, said Standing Order 61, which prohibits the publishing of information via the media before a report is made to Parliament, superseded the PAC act.
At the last PAC meeting last week, Mottley told members regardless of the House of Assembly vote on the matter the committee’s work would go on.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Public Accounts Committee cannot take any decision in relation to Standing Order 61 without the decision of the … House of Assembly and the Senate,” she said.
If, however, and I would not imagine that this would ever happen, the House does not take a vote on Standing Order 61 for two months then it is open to the Public Accounts Committee to meet and to proceed as if Standing Order 61 still obtains rather than having its business stymied because a vote has not been put in the Honourable House of Assembly.
“So what we are doing is seeking guidance on Standing Order 61 from the House of Assembly, but we are not agreeing that our work should forever cease in the event that no vote is put in the House of Assembly. I would never imagine that that would happen, but in the event that it did this Public Accounts Committee would be able to meet even if it adheres to the interpretation that we disagree with but which the government contends,” she added. (SC)