Sun | Feb 16, 2020

CMU shuffle - Pressure forces House Speaker to announce auditor general’s special report to be tabled Tuesday

Published:Friday | January 17, 2020 | 12:54 AM
Pearnel Charles
Pearnel Charles

Following stinging criticism from the parliamentary opposition and National Integrity Action (NIA) over the non-tabling of the Auditor General’s Special Audit Report into allegations of malpractice at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles yesterday promised to table the document next Tuesday.

In a terse statement from the Houses of Parliament, Charles said: “I wish to clarify information placed in the public domain concerning the tabling of a particular auditor general’s report in Parliament.

“Any exchange on the matter should not be construed as reluctance to table the report,” Charles declared.

In a sotto voce comment while speaking with Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Karl Samuda, on Tuesday, Charles had said: “Mi nah lay it tiday. Mi not laying it tiday mi ... (inaudible)”.

Later during the sitting, Dr Morais Guy, leader of opposition business in the House, had asked Charles whether he would table the report. In his response, Charles said he would table the document once he received it.

No discretion

Yesterday, Professor Trevor Munroe, head of NIA, said he was in agreement with constitutional expert Dr Lloyd Barnett that there was nothing in the Constitution that provides for any discretion as to whether the Speaker can put, not put, or hold up the laying of an auditor general’s report properly submitted for tabling.

Munroe said that after careful scrutiny, “we are unable to find any precedent, under successive JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) or PNP (People’s National Party) administrations, where a House Speaker delayed, on his own discretion, the tabling of an auditor general’s report”.

The NIA head argued that such an action, if accepted, would create a dangerous precedent that any future administration could use to undermine the responsibility of Parliament to provide effective oversight in the use of public funds.

The NIA boss said that the delay ran counter to the most recent advice of the International Monetary Fund, which stated that “better monitoring of public funds would improve long-standing gaps in transparency and accountability”.

Dr Wykeham McNeill, the chairman of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, told The Gleaner yesterday that reports should be tabled so that there could be openness and transparency, noting that delays in tabling any report sent a “bad message” to the country.

In a release yesterday, the People’s National Party said that Charles’ failure to table the Auditor General’s Special Report on the CMU was a disturbing development and signalled the continuation of the administration’s effort to cover up the corrupt practices within the Government in general and at the institution in particular.