Govt moves motion to remove Patterson as PAC Chairman
– Opposition’s refusal to submit replacement leaves PAC in limbo
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting came to a halt on Monday after a motion of no-confidence was moved against Chairman David Patterson and his Opposition colleagues refused to take up the seat he left behind after he recused himself.
The motion, calling for Patterson to step down as PAC Chairman, was moved by Government Chief Whip and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Gail Teixeira. While Teixeira moved the motion, the Opposition side argued steadfastly for Patterson to be retained.
The standing orders stipulate that only the Opposition can chair the PAC. The result was that when Patterson eventually recused himself, the rest of his Opposition colleagues’ refusal to take up the chair caused the entire meeting, which was a closed-door affair that excluded the media, to come to a close.
During an interview with the media afterwards, Public Works Minister and PAC member Juan Edghill was peeved at the Opposition’s stance. He noted that they are currently examining the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government’s spending in office and described it as an effort by the Opposition to avoid scrutiny of their record.
“We had a long debate which was totally unnecessary. The Clerk of the National Assembly (Sherlock Issacs) was summoned to give guidance and clarity, which he did, indicating that the motion was proper, it can be put and it should be voted on… at that stage, after the Clerk gave his clarifications, Mr Patterson recused himself to allow for the vote.”
“He did not recuse himself during the debate, which was a clear conflict of interest. Because if the motion is affecting you, at that stage he should have recused himself… when he did recuse himself after guidance from the Clerk and called on the Opposition to chair the meeting, none of them accepted that offer. So, the PAC has been left without a Presiding Officer,” Edghill explained, adding that it is unclear how the matter will be resolved.
Texieira, meanwhile, laid out the way forward, if the Opposition continues to refuse the Chairmanship. According to her, the matter may very well return to the Parliamentary Committee of Selection.
“If the Opposition continues on their position that none of them will take the chair, then obviously the Committee of Selection will have to go back and raise the issue as to the selection of the Committee and the Speaker will probably have to get involved with having another election of the Committee Chair,” the Chief Whip said.
But according to Opposition Member of Parliament and PAC, Ganesh Mahipaul, there is no need for Patterson to be removed as Chairman. He was backed up on this by fellow Opposition PAC members Jermaine Figueira and Juretha Fernandes.
“A member of the Opposition must chair the PAC. The Opposition has full confidence in David Patterson and we have given him that authority and privilege to chair the Committee. He is a sitting Member of the National Assembly and once he is given that confidence by the Opposition, he can chair the Committee,” Mahipaul said.
Mahipaul even went on to accuse the Government side of seeking to stall the PAC meeting so that the People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) spending record for late 2020 will not come up for scrutiny.
However, the PAC is currently examining the Auditor General’s report for the year 2016. The Audit Office has not yet produced a report for 2020. It is only after the audit report for a preceding year is laid in the National Assembly, which usually occurs in the latter part of the year, that the PAC can examine the accounts.
There have been calls for Patterson to be removed as PAC Chairman after he admitted to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts while he was a Minister. These gift items, which consisted of gold jewellery, were purchased by agencies under the then Public Infrastructure Ministry, which he headed in the previous APNU/AFC Government.
Patterson is meanwhile also in hot water when it comes to the sole-sourced contract to Dutch company LievenseCSO for the design of the new Demerara River bridge. At present, he is out on $200,000 bail and will return to court on February 15.