An hour-long meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament ended in acrimony earlier today, with Opposition member Kerrie Symmonds accusing the Government of skirting discussion on the transfer of $45 million to the National Housing Corporation (NHC) between January 2012 and June last year without parliamentary approval.
An angry Symmonds also charged that Government members of the committee had resorted to personal vilification of chairperson and Opposition Leader Mia Mottley.
“It was a very bitter and acrimonious meeting that lasted for just over an hour. During the course of the meeting the Government abused its superior numbers in order to suppress the hearing of evidence by witnesses who had been called to clarify the scandalous financial state of affairs at the NHC,” said Symmonds.
“Those witnesses were summoned to help the PAC explore the reasons behind Government’s expenditure of $45 million, which moved from the Ministry of Finance to the NHC without parliamentary approval. They were expected to be able to explain how come there was no clear understanding as to whether this sum was a loan, a grant or an advance,” he added.
Symmonds, who is leader of Opposition business in the House of Assembly, further stated that the witnesses were also expected to give evidence on the circumstances surrounding the award of contracts by the NHC to a variety of contractors.
Condemning what he termed the “hijacking” of the sitting by Government members of the PAC, the St James Central MP said: “We expected that the witnesses would be able to clarify the hiring of over 200 workers in circumstances in which the NHC clearly had no financial resources to do so.
“Instead of shedding light on these critical matters affecting the country’s finances at a time when thousands of workers are being thrown on the breadline, the Government members went to great lengths to indulge in personal attacks on chairperson Mottley and to frustrate every effort to bring reasoned analysis and evidence on the issues.
“And to add insult to injury, the Government insisted that that the PAC legislation, the very same legislation which enabled all irregularities to come to light should now be repealed. Government is expected to go to Parliament tomorrow to repeal the legislation,” Symmonds added.
But reacting to Symmonds’ concerns, Attorney General and PAC Government member Adriel Brathwaite said the issue was agreeing on procedure.
“For example, people were being summoned, but they were not told if it was correct to bring counsel, whether or not they cannot attend. We argued that in fact let us agree on procedure first,” said Brathwaite, adding that “for years this has been a contention of the Barbados Labour Party”.
“There is a bill before the House of Assembly tomorrow. I believe we will debate it tomorrow; but that is not to say that it is the end of the PAC. The BLP members know that the Standing Orders provide for a PAC and that is what we will revert to. Symmonds knows that,” Brathwaite added.