Tue | Oct 27, 2020

Government scraps Golding chairmanship tradition

Published:Wednesday | September 30, 2020 | 12:20 AM
Bruce Golding had pushed for opposition chairmanship of parliamentary committees because of the need for transparency and accountability.
Bruce Golding had pushed for opposition chairmanship of parliamentary committees because of the need for transparency and accountability.

A more-than-decade-old practice of having opposition members chair all key oversight committees of Parliament in a bow to transparency has been discarded by the Holness administration.

Opposition chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) – which was key to exposing the Petrojam and Caribbean Maritime University scandals – survive for now, with Mark Golding and Mikael Phillips to take over as chairmen, respectively.

But the chairmanship of four other key sessional committees that examine government policies and sector performances – Internal and External Affairs, Economy and Production, Human Resource and Social Development, and Infrastructure and Physical Development – will be headed by government MPs.

That overturns the practice Bruce Golding, the former prime minister of a Jamaica Labour Party administration, started in 2007 to improve Parliament’s oversight functions.

Leader of Opposition Business Phillip Paulwell and Spokesman on Finance Mark Golding led the charge for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to reconsider.

“We are today departing from an established policy and practice by a JLP administration which was a good practice,” Paulwell said during Tuesday evening’s meeting of the House of Representatives.

Golding, meanwhile, argued that although the practice was never formally included in the Standing Orders – Parliament’s rulebook, successive administrations maintained it.

He said the issue was even more important given the Government’s 35-seat majority in the House.

In an earlier response, Leader of Government Business Edmund Bartlett argued that most committees chaired by opposition members in the last term were ineffective. Quoting statistics, Bartlett suggested that the PAAC was the only committee that averaged more than three meetings per year for the last five years.

Holness, despite acknowledging the impassioned pleas of his opposition colleagues and the “noble gesture” of the Golding practice, was not persuaded.

He argued that opposition members mostly showed interest in the PAAC and ignored the other committees where the outcomes were likely to be more favourable to the Government.

“They, Madam Speaker, have defeated, oversight. They are being hypocritical and trying to mislead the public because oversight is not merely, or only, or singularly on the fiduciary matters,” the prime minister said.