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Lawmakers engage in blame game over parliamentary committee meetings

Published:Monday | January 7, 2019 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Fitz Jackson
Mark Golding

The House of Representatives could be the venue for high drama today, as the two main political parties trade accusations over a scheduled meeting of the Internal and External Affairs Committee (IEAC) of Parliament.

The meeting, which is set to begin at 10 a.m., was convened to hear presentations about the states of public emergency from the Ministry of National Security, as well as the top brass of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), according to the schedule released by the Parliament.

Late last week, the parliamentary Opposition attempted to have the meeting postponed and make the venue and time slot available to Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is poring over the damning findings of a comprehensive audit of the state-owned oil refinery, Petrojam.

Chairman of the IEAC, Fitz Jackson, in a letter to the committee clerk requesting the postponement, appeared to suggest that the data from the security forces were ready.

"I recall we had not decided to schedule the meeting with the JCF and the JDF premised on the data being made available beforehand and the analysis by the public defender before the meeting," Jackson said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Gleaner.

"To avoid having to invite the JCF and JDF again after the data is provided, I am recommending that we postpone the meeting for January 8," he added.

Jackson's missive was followed by a letter from his colleague, Mark Golding, chairman of the PAC, to the clerk to the Houses of Parliament, seeking to take advantage of the possible postponement of the IEAC meeting.

"I have asked the PAC clerk to proceed to convene a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on that date (January 8) to resume our review of the auditor general's report on Petrojam/PCJ," Golding wrote to Heather Cooke.




Cooke, however, wrote to members of the IEAC asking them to indicate whether they were in support of the postponement suggested by Jackson.

The result was that six government members voted to go ahead with the meeting, while five opposition members voted against it.

The vote triggered accusations that the government members were hiding from the PAC's review of the auditor general's report, which highlighted "explicit acts of nepotism and corruption" at the state-owned oil refinery.

"Only reason is to prevent the PAC from getting that slot to address the AG's report on Petrojam. What dogged determination to cover up those wrongs," People's National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament Peter Bunting tweeted after the vote.

However, one Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) insider dismissed the accusations and defended the actions of his colleagues on the IEAC.

"The security forces are ready to face the committee," the JLP insider told The Gleaner yesterday.

According to the insider, the JLP is anxious to have the auditor general's report examined by the PAC.

"If anything, it's the PNP that is not going to come out too well," the source warned.

"Nobody is running from either meeting [of the IEAC or the PAC]. In fact, it is in the interest of the JLP to convene these meetings quickly," the insider said.