In a statement before today’s parliamentary session at the Jamaica Conference Centre, the Leader of Opposition Business, Mr Phillip Paulwell, M.P., said the government’s position on the change to Opposition chairing of committees was disingenuous and unfair. He also stated that it undermines the best practices of maintaining a high standard of accountability.
Mr Paulwell said the government failed to state the real reasons for the change to a convention, which has worked very well in scrutinising policies, expenditure and exposing maladministration and corruption, including breaches in the hiring practice and procurement procedure. It appears now that with its more than two-third majority, the government has decided to pursue a strategy of coverup, he added.
The Leader of Opposition Business said the argument proffered by the government is a ruse because meetings were curtailed due to limited space at Gordon House and a shortage of secretariat support services and not on the lack of availability of members as being claimed.
Mr Paulwell said the 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 JLP majority.
He reminded that 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). 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.
The Leader of Opposition Business in the Lower House said this new attempt is disingenuous and threatens the smooth operation of our parliamentary democracy. He said 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.
“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.
Mr Paulwell said the Opposition is prepared to have discussions and agreements with the government on several issues to make the committees more useful, including a schedule of meetings for all committees, staffing and venues. He further proposed a review of committee membership, bearing in mind the 49/14 composition of the present Parliament.
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