THE Opposition yesterday repeated its call to be allowed to chair all sessional committees of the House of Representatives, arguing that the move to discontinue the tradition is evidence of a Government drunk from the power of its huge parliamentary majority. It also stands ready, it says, to engage in dialogue with the Government to find a way to “make the committees more useful”.
“The changes proposed by the Government amount to a retrograde step which may very well become the underpinning of an authoritarian regime, inebriated on its parliamentary majority,” said Leader of Opposition Business Phillip Paulwell in a statement before yesterday’s sitting of the House. “It appears now that with its more than two-thirds majority, the Government has decided to pursue a strategy of cover-up.”
Last week Prime Minister Andrew Holness and other Government ministers maintained that the Opposition had done a poor job, during the last Administration, of chairing the committees for which they were given responsibility. Paulwell again rubbished those claims yesterday, saying the “meetings were curtailed due to limited space at Gordon House and a shortage of secretariat support services – not on the lack of availability of members as is being claimed.”
He added that the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members also thwarted the effectiveness of the committees by using Section 77 (7) of the Standing Orders, which mandates that the committees could only deal with matters referred to them by the House, which is controlled by the Government majority.
According to Paulwell, last week’s announcement was not the first attempt by the JLP Government to remove Opposition chairs, including the chairman of the Public Appropriations and Administration Committee (PAAC).
Government, however, had announced that the Opposition would retain chairmanship of the PAAC and the Public Accounts Committee.
“In the last Parliament, there were at least two attempts during the uncovering of improper spending practices and other procedural shenanigans to derail the process because the Government was embarrassed by the revelations of poor management and wasteful spending,” he said.
He noted that the proposed changes have far-reaching implications.
“Structurally, these changes weaken the effectiveness of the Opposition and the parliamentary oversight arrangements and devalue our democratic tradition, and good relationship to advance Jamaica’s cause,” he said.
He said the Opposition is willing to explore, and come to a consensus with the Government, on how to improve the effectiveness of the committees. Issues that could be looked at, he said, include the scheduling of meetings for all committees, staffing and venues. Paulwell also proposed a review of committee membership, bearing in mind the 49/14 composition of the present Parliament.