– members ask for time to scrutinize “evidence”
By: Kiana Wilburg
Opposition Member Juan Edghill appeared before the Committee of Privileges yesterday to defend comments he made last year regarding the salary increases for members of the Government.
The Parliamentarian contended then that the increases would cost the nation about $1B annually. The Government has since pressed the politician to withdraw the statement, noting that it is erroneous, to say the least. Edghill has since refused to cave to the Government’s request. He maintains that he has the “evidence” to support his contentions.
Edghill informed this newspaper that he also presented members of the Committee with the relevant documents in this regard, which would prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that he did not intentionally mislead the National Assembly, as is being claimed by the Government.
The members of Government on the Privileges Committee include Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan; Attorney General Basil Williams; Minister of State Joseph Harmon; Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan; and AFC Member of Parliament, Charrandas Persaud.
Representing the Opposition are Members of Parliament, Clement Rohee, Mohabir Nandlall, Priya Manickchand and Adrian Anamayah.
The Committee is also chaired by Speaker of the House, Dr. Barton Scotland.
In presenting his case to the Committee, Edghill sought to chronicle the events that took place from the day he made the utterance which has landed him in hot water.
Edghill reminded the Committee that on December 17, 2015 he had moved a
Motion, calling on the Government to annul order Number #16 of 2015 which he considered to be an act to unduly enrich Ministers of the Government and place a burden on the public purse.
He said, “It is my understanding that the increases as were purported by the Government and reported ad nauseam in the media would have resulted in taxpayers footing a tumultuous bill of almost an additional $1B when compared to the cabinet of the People’s Progressive Party Civic Government at the time of demitting office in May 2015.”
During the debate of that said motion, Edghill recalled that the Government disputed those figures, stating that the annualized salary increases would be a mere $67.8M. By his calculation, this meant a total of $339 million over a period of five years.
“I was called upon to withdraw my figures, but I did not yield to the request because I held the view that my statement was a fair comment. And based upon the details available in order No# 16 of 2015, I acted responsibly during the discourse of my debate,” the Opposition Member expressed.
The Parliamentarian added, “My figures were not plucked out of the sky or manufactured. And had the tone of the debate been more civil, with less unnecessary interruptions and adequate time offered, greater details could have been given to the House and the avoidance of this unnecessary outcome and abuse of process.”
Edghill informed members of the Committee that on December 28, 2015, he received a copy of a letter written by the Government’s Chief, Amna Ali, M.P., to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland, which complained about the statements he made during the debate of the motion. For the record, he noted that in that letter, Ali advised that if the statements made were not withdrawn, further action would be taken to send him before the Privileges Committee.
On January 7, last, Edghill told the Committee that the Opposition’s Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, wrote the Speaker of the National Assembly in response to Ms. Ali’s letter.
In her response, she indicated that under the item on the order paper titled “personal explanations”, Edghill would be prepared to inform the House, with the approval of the Speaker, that he in no way intended to intentionally mislead the House but rather, to bring to the attention of the House, the significant cost incurred by the salary increases. Ms. Teixeira’s request was however, denied.
Addressing the Speaker, Edghill said, “Mr. Chairman, on that said day, you convened a meeting as Speaker of the National Assembly where the Honourable Members Raphael Trotman, Amna Ali, Winston Jordan, Anil Nandlall, Teixeira and I were present.”
He continued, “At that meeting Sir, the Parliament’s Office produced a document with figures it would have computed showing a yearly cost of $83.9M or a total of $458,612,760 versus Mr. Jordan’s figure of $338,452,540. It was clear that there were now three figures provided. These figures included my figure of almost a billion dollars, the Minister’s figure and the Parliament Office’s figure.”
Edghill added, “Another meeting was called by you Sir on January 21, 2016 where the honourable Member Amna Ali insisted that I must withdraw my figures and apologize to the House. The Honourable Member Mr. Trotman offered to draft language that would satisfy this request. This did not find agreement with me.”
The Opposition Member noted that the Government subsequently submitted to the Speaker, a motion which called for him to be sent to the Privileges Committee. Edghill asserted that interestingly, this motion never surfaced until the May 4, last sitting when it was read before the House. It was subsequently approved by the Speaker.
The Parliamentarian said that in August, last, he was invited by the Speaker to discuss this matter of finding an amicable settlement.
“My understanding was that the Speaker was acting under the instruction of the Committee. At that meeting, I indicated to the Speaker that I would be prepared to offer my computations in the presence of the Auditor-General or Accountant-General who are two reputable professionals and public office holders,” Edghill stated.
The politician said that at the final sitting in August, before the recess, he was invited to meet with the Speaker and asked that his Opposition colleague, Anil Nandlall, accompany him. Edghill said that he shared his computations with the Speaker who subsequently requested it in writing. Edghill however, did not honour that request.
The Opposition Member told the Committee that he would not have done anything that could have brought his integrity, honour and dedication, as well as commitment to the oath he took in the National Assembly into dispute or question.
Edghill then presented to the Privileges Committee, a document containing his computations of what the salary increases would entail in every category as outlined in order 16# of 2015 providing a total of $964,486,521 — almost a billion dollars.
In that same document, he indicated that with the inclusion of the new Minister Valerie Patterson who was appointed after the debate, the figure climbed upward to $1,001,350,194.
The Committee upon receipt of the document, asked for time so that it could be scrutinized against the comments he made.
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