PAC meeting cancelled again for lack of quorum
For a second consecutive week, the scheduled meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been aborted due to a lack of quorum and Chairman Jermaine Figueira has said that he is mulling a motion for the National Assembly to reverse the April 2022 decision that changed the three-member quorum to its present five.
“This constant cancellation is getting annoying. No one showed up from the government side…This is time wasting, our time, the staff time, the advisors and the agency,” an upset Figueira said yesterday. He pointed out that the committee only received an excuse from Government Chief Whip and Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira. She informed the committee that she was unwell.
According to the Chairman, the constant cancellations of meetings are frustrating as the work of the committee continues to be stymied by one side of the house. “Commitment to transparency and accountability is left with a question mark behind it. It is just so frustrating that this is what we have to go through,” Figueira lamented. He said that in a bid to prevent this situation from recurring, the opposition will seek to rescind the quorum change. The PAC Chair underscored that they cannot continue to function in this manner, as no work will get done. PAC member, Ganesh Mahipaul, yesterday said that given the significant role the PAC plays in ensuring accountability and transparency, it “cannot be held up at the whims and fancies of a Government that is constantly being accused of corruption.”
Mahipaul added that currently the committee is examining the 2019 Auditor General’s [AG] report and it is imperative that they convene and examine that report so that and other reports of the AG are brought up to date.
“We are lagging years behind. The Accounting Officers of the Ministries, Departments and Regions are not receiving the best advice from the PAC hence we see a repetition of the issues in subsequent years,” he stated. The issues in the 2018 and 2019 reports are no different from the issues in the 2020 and 2021 reports, he added. In his view, fixing the problems require “us to be up to date with the… reports and provide the necessary guidance to the Accounting Officers”.
Last week Monday’s meeting was the 10th that was cancelled since the quorum change, and in a brief comment to the media, Figueira revealed that Government Chief Whip, Teixeira, informed him that she was travelling. Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill, and Director General at the Ministry of
Health, Dr Vishwa Mahadeo informed the committee of their nonavailability via the clerk of the committee. They too were travelling. Edghill had accompanied Prime Minister Mark Phillips to Linden for a visit and meeting with Bosai following a workplace incident where a worker was buried under overburden.
Mahadeo informed the PAC that he was in Region Nine while Attorney Sanjeev Datadin, when contacted by this newspaper, explained that he was required to honour his court obligations. Following the cancellation of the ninth meeting, Teixeira had dismissed the opposition’s claims that the PPP/C side’s absence from the PAC was an attempt to stymie the work of the body. Teixeira countered that the PAC is not a fulltime job, and other members from her side of the House are engaged in jobs with demanding schedules and are required to be out of town at intervals. Further, she argued that she and Edghill are two of the most experienced members on the PAC. Sitting on the
committee, she explained, allows them to groom young members in the interim.
Subsequent to the change in the quorum, 10 meetings in addition to yesterday’s, have so far been cancelled. The other PAC cancellations occurred on May 23, 2022 (mere weeks after a change to the previous quorum was adopted), July 11, 18 and 25; November 21 and 28; December 12; and February 6 and 13, 2023. Before the change of quorum, a meeting required the presence of three members, irrespective of which side of the House they were from. Opposition members, then, had argued in defence of the three
that if it was changed, government members would use the new formula to stymie the work of the PAC. The new quorum guiding the current PAC requires five members, two from either side of the House plus the Chairman.
Teixeira, when defending her tabling of the motion to change the quorum, had said that the amendment of the quorum for the PAC offered protection to both sides of the National Assembly. She argued that the 2-2-1 formula provides for greater participation when scrutinising the Auditor General’s reports and secures representation of both sides.