Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Wykeham McNeill | Stifling the transparency in governance

Published:Sunday | November 22, 2020 | 8:20 AM
Wykeham McNeill
Wykeham McNeill
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen reads the Throne speach at Gordon House at the ceremonial opening of Parliament in February 2019. There are currently ongoing issues with naming of the committees of the parliament and replacement of opposition chairmen w
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen reads the Throne speach at Gordon House at the ceremonial opening of Parliament in February 2019. There are currently ongoing issues with naming of the committees of the parliament and replacement of opposition chairmen with government members.
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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

– Edmund Burke

The controversy surrounding the recently named committees of Parliament continues. It started with the replacing of the opposition chairmen with government members and suggesting that they can provide oversight over themselves.

But the situation is even worse than it appears on the surface. The Government has also moved to neuter the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), which have, in recent years, provided a refreshing level of openness and transparency to government operations.

The first change was to alter the composition of these committees. In the past, the committees have had 15 members, or so, with the Government having the majority of eight to the Opposition’s seven. After the last election, they changed this ratio to the Government having 12 and the Opposition three.

I must repeat this because it is so crazy. Government has 12 members, and the Opposition has three!

The rationale is, ostensibly, that the Standing Orders Section 75 (1) state that the select committee shall as far as possible be constituted to ensure that the balance of parties in the house be reflected. But in 2011, when the PNP government won the election with over a two-thirds majority, the committee composition remained eight to seven.

INSULT TO INJURY

To add insult to injury, the Government is also now insisting that the PAAC stick to a set agenda, and any changes must be approved by the committee. This is important because this committee oversees current expenditure. So as issues arise in the public, it must be able to examine them. This will not happen because it has to get approval by the committee, and remember the ratio of twelve to three.

These two moves will shut down the ability of the committee to effectively provide its oversight function. It is unfortunate that the prime minister and his government should use their majority in the Parliament to limit transparency over how taxpayers’ monies are to be expended. This situation must not be allowed to continue.

I have suggested that if this situation is not addressed, that instead of presiding over a committee that has been neutered and is bound to be ineffective, notice be served on the Government that when the Supplementary Budget is tabled (probably early next year) that the opposition chairman refuse to call the sitting of the committee to examine and give a report on the Budget as is required by 48G of the fiscal responsibility framework.

This would potentially shut down government expenditure and force a real discussion on the matter.

In the meantime, our good men and women in society should not remain silent. What is the position of EPOC on this? What is the position of the PSOJ? I am sure that the IMF who helped frame the fiscal responsibility framework must be genuinely concerned upon seeing this situation unfold. Let good men not remain silent. I mean, 12 to three on a committee? Come On!

Dr Wykeham McNeill is vice-president of the People’s National Party and the former Member of Parliament for Western Westmoreland. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.