Gov't, opposition quarrel over PAC meeting on Petrojam report
Livern Barrett, Parliamentary Reporter
A public quarrel erupted between the Government and the Opposition after today’s premature end to the meeting of a parliamentary committee that was reviewing the damning findings of a comprehensive audit of the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was just over one hour into its meeting when the Clerk to the Houses of Parliament Heather Cooke delivered a note to the chairman of the committee Mark 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 and the six Opposition members present disregarded the note, saying Samuda had no authority to give such direction.
But, minutes after they resumed their grilling of a senior executive from the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica it was pointed out that the staff of the Parliament had withdrawn from the chambers.
Golding and his colleagues were livid.
“This is the kind of anti-democratic undermining of the oversight functions of an important parliamentary committee. It is a danger to democracy in this country,” he fumed before he was forced to adjourn the meeting.
Outside the chambers of Parliament the gloves came off.
“The (political) executive does not control the Parliament. The leader of government business is the executive’s representative in Parliament. He [Samuda] was quite wrong in attempting to subvert and put an end to proceedings that were in full flight reviewing this very vital report,” Golding told reporters.
But, Samuda and Attorney General Marlene Malahoo-Forte quickly fired back.
They asserted that the meeting was not properly convened and Samuda made it clear that he did not direct the House Clerk to withdraw her staff from the PAC meeting.
“I have no such power,” Samuda said.
“And I could not instruct the clerk, nor did I attempt to instruct the clerk,” he insisted.
“I simply advised the clerk of her own powers, including the action she took based on her advice to me that the meeting was not properly convened,” he continued.
According to Samuda, today’s meeting of the PAC was convened “despite the advice of the clerk of the House that it ought not to be held.”
Malahoo-Forte accused the parliamentary Opposition of using the findings of the Petrojam audit to score “cheap” political points.