ALL RIGHTS ARE LIMITED
A Partnership for Nation Unity (APNU) should not fall victim to the Alliance for Change (AFC) strategy of deflecting criticism from itself towards the partnership.
This is what the AFC is trying to do following a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee of parliament during which one of the AFC representatives was not there at the time a vote was taken.
The vote concerned the confirmation of appointments within the Audit Office. The PPPC forced a vote in the absence of the AFC member and because it had the majority at the time, it secured a vote favouring the appointment.
APNU should not allow itself to be confused by the AFC. The APNU’s representative who presided over that meeting was not at fault. He acted in accordance with the Standing Orders.
It was unfortunate that the AFC representative was late but this was no fault of either the PPPC or APNU.
The AFC has tried to deflect blame onto APNU by claiming that the presiding official was misled by the PPP into believing that he did not have an initial vote. They argued that the standing orders provide for all members of the committee to have voting rights and that the rule that a presiding officer cannot vote relates to Select Committees as distinct from Standing Committees.
The issue of a distinction between a Select Committee and a Standing Committee is a red herring. It has no relevance to the issue of the Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee exercising his right to vote.
The distinction that should concern APNU is that between the right to vote and the conditions governing the exercise of that right. It is very much like the right to vote. There is a right to vote but the exercise of that right requires registration.
Similarly there is a right of every member of the Public Accounts Committee to vote but that right is circumscribed. The right can only be exercised if there is an equal division: that if the votes for and the votes against the motion before the committee are equal.
It is only then that the Chairman can exercise his right to vote in order to break the deadlock.
In effect the Chairman has a right to vote but that right can only be exercised if there is a deadlock. There is therefore no need for any confusion on the part of APNU as to changes to the standing orders not being comprehensive.
There is nothing unusual about this provision which allows the Chairperson to have a casting vote only where there is a deadlock in the votes. This happens in many organizations and the provision within the standing orders of parliament was not deliberate.
When the AFC and APNU combined to change the number of persons on various committees of parliament, they were well aware of the existing standing orders about voting and this is why they insisted on the numbers that they did so that there would not be gridlock.
In the case of the Public Accounts Committee, if all the representatives were present at that fateful meeting there would have been an equality of votes which would then activate the right of the Chairperson to break the deadlock. Thus no gridlock would ensue.
APNU should also not allow itself to be confounded by the debates about a conflict of interest. This issue could have been the basis for denying an appointment, but it cannot be for a confirmation. When it comes to confirmation other factors including performance are important.
The conflict of interest could not have been legitimately used to deny confirmation. Once the PAC was satisfied with the competence and performance of the individual concerned, they had to confirm in spite of any reservations about conflict of interest.
Undoubtedly there remains an issue concerning conflicts of interest within the Audit Office. But it seems as if those making these charges expect the government or parliament to do something about it.
It is not for the government or parliament to do something about it. It is not for the government to do anything about it. It is for the Auditor General to address the issue in accordance with established practices.
As such, the government should not be answering about conflict of interest within an independent constitutional office. Nor should the parliament.