MR. GREENDIGE WAS NOT AT FAULT
The Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee was not ill-advised on whether he was required to vote on a question before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.
If indeed it was true that the Chairperson of that committee was advised that he could not cast his vote then that advice was correct and in accordance with the Standing Orders of Parliament.
The distinction between a Standing Committee and a Select Committee does not vitiate the provisions of Standing Orders 48 (1 and 2) which prohibit the person presiding over a meeting of a committee from casting a vote, save and except if there is an equality in division in which instance the person presiding has the right to break the division.
Thus, only if there is a deadlock in the voting in a committee can the person presiding over that committee vote to break that deadlock. Once the votes for those supporting the question are not equal to the votes opposing or vice versa the Chair is not required to vote.
All the arguments therefore about the Chairperson being ill-advised and all the arguments about different voting rules for Standing Committees and against Select Committees are irrelevant since the Standing Orders of Parliament is quite explicit on the issue of voting.
Instead of blame being cast on the person presiding over the meeting, the AFC must accept that the PPP had its way because of the absence of the AFC’s representative on the Public Accounts Committee. That representative was delayed and therefore unable to be at the meeting in time for the vote. These things happen; they are part of life.
In 1992, the PPP won the Chairmanship of a region purely by accident. They did not expect to do so but it happened because someone from the PNCR did not turn up to vote. Therefore there is no reason for the AFC to be trying to deflect attention from the non-attendance of its member towards the Chairperson who did the right thing.
The AFC has rightly shown understanding towards the excuse of its member. And it has rightly not come down harsh on him. These things happen.
Perhaps the PPP should have waited for the members to arrive but the PPP has been feeling the pinch since January of this year because of the opposition’s numerical domination of the National Assembly and its committees. It lost a case seeking to have proportionality applied to the composition of the various committees of parliament
It is understandable therefore that it would try to salvage some victory whenever it can. It did in the recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee and the AFC should accept this. Mr. Greendige was not at fault. He did the right thing and even if he could have voted, it would have been up to him as to how to vote.
The issue that led to this storm in a teacup surrounds the confirmation of the wife of the Minister of Finance to a senior position within the Office of the Auditor General. There have been arguments that a conflict of interest existed. But even if it does, this cannot be the basis for denying the confirmation of someone who has acted in a position for years.
It could have been for the appointment but once the Minister’s wife was acting for so long in the position, then when it comes to confirmation this issue should not be used as a basis for disqualifying confirmation.
The conflict of interest arises in relation to the performance of duties and those duties were being performed for years before the recent vote. It thus should not be used as the basis of denying the confirmation but it can be used to question the duties of the Minister’s wife in the Office of the Auditor General.
This issue is still one that needs resolving but when it comes to the vote for confirmation, that issue should be put to rest.
The opposition should stop seeing its role in parliament as being about exercising power, about having the upper hand. It should instead devote more time towards building consensus. In order to do so it will however be necessary for improved relationships between the ruling party and the opposition in the National Assembly.
This brings up the issue of the decision of parliament to host a lecture. The Speaker is well-intentioned in this regard but he should devote more time towards events that would allow both sides of the House to get to know each other better and to socialize in way that would improve relations.
A highly contentious lecture in which comments were made which the ruling party will be interpreted as an attempt to reduce the standing of one of its founders will only aggravate things between the two sides.
Perhaps after the next sitting of parliament is held later this week to honor two long-standing former parliamentarians- one from the opposition and one from the ruling party- a little social can be held afterwards that would allow the parliamentarians to not only congratulate those being honored but also to mingle and discover how much they have in common and thereby reduce this tendency to always be at odds politically.