The House of Assembly today rejected the tabling of the report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament for 2013–2018 after objections from Government members of the committee.
After PAC Chairman, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley gave notice of the laying of the report, Minister of Commerce, Industry, International Business, and Small Business Development Donville Inniss, who sits on the committee, objected and received support from Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Stephen Lashley.
Inniss told Deputy Speaker Mara Thompson he was not invited to the meeting at which the final report was discussed and agreed on, and therefore, he did not know what was contained in the report.
“I rise to raise objection to that report being tabled today on the basis that as a member of the Public Accounts Committee I have not had sight of the final report that is being prepared to be laid today. While I appreciate, of course, the importance of the Public Accounts Committee and the work we have been doing over time, I think any report of such importance ought to be reviewed by all members before it is laid in Parliament,” Inniss said.
He said he only found out yesterday that there was a meeting of the committee on Saturday, February 17 to which he was not invited, and therefore, could not make an input.
“On that basis, Madam Deputy Speaker, I certainly as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, would wish that the Chair of the PAC would be gracious enough, not to lay the report today, but give us members who were not invited to that meeting the chance to review the report and then come together again,” Inniss suggested.
However, Mottley sought to contradict the minister, explaining that she had received an email on Wednesday, February 21, “which went to every single member of the Public Accounts Committee with this final report attached to it”, and that prior to receiving the email Clerk of Parliament Richard Byer “assures me . . . that on every single occasion, members of the Committee were invited, and with the exception of the last Honourable Member [Inniss] who spoke and Senator [Jepter] Ince, virtually no member from the Government has attended that Committee for over a year”.
Mottley also said on the date the first draft of the report was being prepared both she and the clerk had received text messages from Inniss indicating that he would be late for the meeting, but he never showed up.
“So that any attempt now to say that they were not part of it is because they chose not to be part of it. And any attempt to say that they did not have sight of it, is because they chose not to have sight of it. But Madam Deputy Speaker, the work has been done. The Prime Minister wants evidence, over to you, Prime Minister,” the PAC chairman stressed.
Meantime, Sealy, who admitted he did not attend Saturday’s meeting, told the House he received a copy of the report on Wednesday evening, and he anticipated that he would have had an opportunity to make an input.
“To come to the House of Assembly 36 hours later to give notice of that report, Madam Deputy Speaker, is breaching, in my opinion, what is common courtesy. There are serious allegations made in this report and frankly speaking, we need to have the benefit of further counsel,” he argued.
Sealy noted that from the beginning there were questions as to whether the PAC has the legal standing to carry out an investigation.
“There were concerns it was going to degenerate into a kangaroo court and a political exercise, which is all that it is. The media is outside waiting for the press briefing, you know. The member is free to play all the politics that she wants to play. This is the House of Assembly. The Public Accounts Committee is a parliamentary committee and there is a proper way to do things,” he contended.
After Lashley recommended that the issue be referred to the Committee of Privileges, the sitting was suspended, after which Thompson returned to indicate that, after speaking with the Speaker, she would not allow Mottley to lay the report in the House.
“I have looked at this and conferred with His Honour the Speaker who has returned from his unavoidable appointment and we have determined that in light of the fact that there are members complaining about the procedures of the said committee, it would actually be a breach of their privileges to lay this in this manner. Only this morning, the Speaker himself knew of this, and that’s not how Parliament operates. Things must be done properly, so I will not accept that this report has been laid properly. And that’s my take,” she ruled.