Wed | Jul 24, 2019

Fiasco in Parliament - PAC meeting adjourned in confusion over legality

Published:Wednesday | December 12, 2018 | 12:26 AM

Chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Mark Golding, acted “illegally” when he convened yesterday’s meeting of the PAC, which ended in confusion, a senior government official has charged.

However, Golding has rejected any blame for the fiasco that unfolded in Parliament and accused the Andrew Holness administration of carrying out an orchestrated plan to “subvert” the committee’s review of the damning findings of a comprehensive audit of the state-owned oil refinery, Petrojam.

The PAC, with only the Opposition members in attendance, was about 90 minutes into its deliberations when the clerk to the Houses of Parliament, Heather Cooke, delivered a note to Golding.

“I have a memorandum from the Houses of Parliament telling me that due to the fact that there was no majority decision of the committee to convene a meeting of the PAC, I have been instructed by Minister Karl Samuda, leader of government business in the House of Representatives, to withdraw the services of the staff of Parliament from these proceedings with immediate effect,” Golding said, reading from the note.

However, the PAC chairman disregarded the note, saying Samuda had no authority to give such direction.

But minutes after the committee resumed its grilling of a senior executive from the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), it was pointed out to Golding that the staff of the Parliament had left the chambers.

During a press conference after the meeting at Gordon House, Samuda denied directing Cooke to shut down the PAC, before accusing Golding of acting illegally in convening the meeting without the approval of a majority of the members.

“This approach by the newly appointed chairman is not only unusual, but, I dare say, it smacks of illegality,” Samuda asserted.

He charged that Golding was advised by the clerk to the Houses of Parliament that the meeting was not properly convened.

“The only appropriate action for you to take is to ensure that it does not continue on that vein,” Samuda said. “It’s a total exercise in futility to continue that meeting.”

But Golding, in defending his actions, noted that in email correspondence through the Parliament, it was revealed that the members of the PAC were split five-to-five on whether the meeting should go ahead. “I, as chairman, indicated that my casting vote is in favour of the meeting going ahead,” he said.

“And that seemed to have persuaded Parliament as well, because they made all the arrangements to have all the stakeholders present,” he said, in reference to Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis and senior executives from PCJ and Petrojam being present at the meeting.

But Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte disputed that assertion, saying Golding was informed that the vote was five-to-four in favour of not holding the meeting.

“It appears that the chairman of the PAC is of the view that the committee can delegate its powers to the chair. That is not what is provided for in the Standing Orders,” she said, making reference to the rules governing the Parliament.