Mon | Nov 19, 2018

Letter of the Day | Government can't police itself

Published:Friday | October 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

It goes without saying that someone who is to be held accountable cannot credibly be held accountable by himself.

The long-established Westminster practice of having the Public Accounts Committee chaired by a member of the Opposition supports the point. It is a practice that has never been challenged in Jamaica, even in the sharply polarised period of the 1970s.

A number of parliamentary reforms were introduced following the gas protests of 1999. These included the requirement that tax proposals be reviewed by a parliamentary committee before implementation, as well as the establishment of five new oversight committees (Public Administration and Appropriations, Internal and External Affairs, Economy and Production, Human Resources and Social Development, and Infrastructure and Physical Development).

It was - and still is - my view that the purpose of these committees (reviewing the operations of government) is similar to that of the Public Accounts Committee and hence should be chaired by a member of the Opposition, a practice that was instituted in 2007.

There is, of course, the possibility that the opposition chairman will use his/her position to embarrass the Government, but such is the thrust and interplay of a parliamentary democracy. It is the responsibility of the Government to seek to ensure that there is nothing about which it can be embarrassed. That is what checks and balances are all about.

There is a limit to the chairman's powers. He or she is still subject to the vote of the majority on the committee, which the government side controls. But it does give the chairman influence over the scheduling of meetings and the structuring of the agenda.

I should, perhaps, have ensured that this practice was inserted in the Standing Orders but, then, the Standing Orders can easily be changed by a government majority in the House.

BRUCE GOLDING

Former Prime Minister