Thu | Feb 27, 2020

Barnett: Speaker Charles has no discretion - Constitutional expert says Parliament duty-bound to table auditor general’s reports

Published:Thursday | January 16, 2020 | 10:36 PMEdmond Campbell
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Respected constitutional lawyer Dr Lloyd Barnett has said that Speaker of the House of Representatives, Pearnel Charles, cannot exercise discretion in the tabling of reports from the Auditor General’s Department because Jamaican law does not grant him that privilege.

Section 122, Subsection 2 of the Constitution declares: “The auditor general shall submit his reports made under subsection (1) of this section to the speaker (or, if the office of speaker is vacant or the speaker is for any reason unable to perform the functions of his office, to the deputy speaker), who shall cause them to be laid before the House of Representatives”.

The Gleaner understands that Parliament received three reports from the Auditor General’s Department late last year. The reports are the Auditor General’s Annual Report, a Special Audit Report on the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), and a compliance report on the Jamaica Library Service.

However, the CMU special audit report was the only one not tabled. 
Barnett told The Gleaner that Section 122, Subsection 2 of Jamaica’s supreme law imposes a duty on the speaker to table reports submitted by the auditor general.

He pointed out that the “speaker is the recipient in a formal way”, noting that it was really the Parliament to which the auditor general was required to submit her reports for tabling. 

“There is nothing in the section which provides for any discretion as to whether you put it or not or for any hold-up of the laying,” said Barnett.

However, the legal luminary indicated that Parliament could make a decision to table the report for the benefit of lawmakers but stipulate that it should not be for wider publication if they felt that the contents were prejudicial to Ruel Reid, the former education minister, and Caribbean Maritime University President Fritz Pinnock, who are both facing fraud and corruption charges.

Meantime, Karl Samuda, leader of government business in the House of Representatives, said that the laying of reports in Parliament was not in his purview, but the speaker’s.

“It is actually the decision of the speaker of the House if there are any aspects of any matter to be brought to the House that gives him reason to want to have a second look at it. That is the position he has taken and that is the position that we have to abide by and respect,” Samuda said.

On Tuesday, Charles told leader of opposition business in the House, Dr Morais Guy, that the auditor general’s special audit report on the CMU would be tabled once he “receives it”, which raises questions as to why the Speaker saw 19 other reports but not the CMU document.

When asked if the speaker was seeking legal guidance on the report, Samuda declined comment on that score.
In a Gleaner interview yesterday, Guy said that the Opposition would be insisting that the speaker carry out his mandate in accordance with the Constitution. “We are expecting that the speaker of the House will advise himself properly that he has no discretion as to whether it should be tabled or not,” Guy insisted.
edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com