Patterson removed as PAC Chair following passage of motion in National Assembly
– refused to follow directive from Speaker, Clerk to allow motion
After a marathon session that lasted until the wee hours of Tuesday, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government was able to pass a motion ousting A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Member of Parliament David Patterson from the Chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Before the motion was passed by a 34 to 31 majority in the National Assembly, the Government had to weather a lengthy debate and the calling of a division of votes.
Despite the main Opposition APNU/AFC’s minority in the National Assembly, they went down fighting for Patterson. But with Opposition MP and Deputy Speaker Lennox Shuman siding with the Government, the motion was passed shortly after 05:30h.
Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Gail Teixeira, who sponsored the motion, referenced events leading up to it, including the Opposition’s failure to act after the interventions of Speaker of the National Assembly Manzoor Nadir and Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs.
“It is clear from the minutes of the PAC, that there has never been an intention in the motion that the Opposition would not Chair the PAC. What is the contention is the person holding the Chair, unless the APNU/AFC is saying to us that the only person fit and proper on their side to be the Chair is Patterson?”
Teixeira made it clear that even if the Opposition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) avoids taking up the vacant seat, they will elect a Chairman at every sitting if they have to.
“The honourable thing for the member to have done was to resign. He was given that option. And if the Opposition feels it doesn’t want to take up the position, then the Committee will function and it will elect a Chairman day by day, as required by the Standing Orders,” she said.
Meanwhile, APNU/AFC MP and PAC member Ganesh Mahipaul defended why the PPP’s initial motion of no-confidence in Patterson was not accepted. According to Mahipaul, the motion in its then form did not present enough reason for Patterson’s removal and thus, was not put to the floor by the Chairman.
“How can the highest decision-making body move to accept a two-line motion that says we don’t have confidence in Mr Patterson and then decide to say that he should resign. And we should accept that?”
Mahipaul also attributed Patterson’s failure to call a PAC meeting after being written to by the Speaker, to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to him, Patterson did not mean disrespect for the Speaker or the Clerk.
“You (Speaker) did write… the honourable David Patterson didn’t fail to call a PAC meeting after you wrote. You would recall, Sir, that it was you who said in a document that because of COVID-19 pandemic and because a number of staff members tested positive, we would have a suspension of meetings of standing committees until it returns to some level of normalcy. That is what caused that space from us reaching as a PAC so your letter could be formally tabled.”
However, Teixeira was having none of it. She pointed out that Patterson could have communicated this to the Speaker by any means. However, this was not done and moreover, the Clerk of the National Assembly himself came to the PAC meetings to inform Patterson that the motion was proper.
“You said there was no disrespect to the Speaker or Clerk. The Speaker wrote a letter on May 3. No acknowledgement. No information to the PAC by the Chair, by electronic means that (he) has received the letter and (he) will take action and comply. Nothing. Silence.”
“And you tell me that you respect the Speaker? You said you don’t disrespect the Clerk. The Clerk came thrice to the Committee and advised you what to do, advised the Chairman that the motion was in order and he should put the motion. And the minutes describe what happened.”
MP Roysdale Forde, who has emerged as the Opposition’s point man on legal issues, argued that the motion should not be entertained because it is sub judice. According to him, a motion to remove the Chairman of the PAC is also not provided for in the Standing Orders.
“The Standing Orders do not provide for the removal of the Chair of a Committee. That is why we encountered the problems over the number of meetings that were referred to. They were asked to produce and point to the source of the motion. It could not be identified!”
However, Teixeira maintained that the Standing Orders do provide for Patterson’s removal. According to the Minister, who also serves as the Government Chief Whip in Parliament, it is only logical that there is a provision for Patterson’s removal.
“No Chairperson is so entrenched and entitled to the position that he cannot be removed. Just like a Government can be removed, why not the Chairperson of a Committee? It’s logical, isn’t it? Or is it that the Chair has Patterson’s name on it?” she asked.
Patterson has been embroiled in controversy after he admitted to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in gift items from agencies and departments under the then Public Infrastructure Ministry, which he headed in the previous APNU/AFC Administration. He has also faced charges for his role in the sole sourcing of a contract for the design of the new Demerara River bridge. That contract went to Dutch company LievenseCSO.
As such, there had been widespread calls for the embattled Opposition MP to step down as Chair of the PAC – the parliamentary body that is responsible for scrutinising the Government’s spending via the audited reports from the Audit Office of Guyana.
However, the coalition Opposition has been adamant in having Patterson remain the PAC Chairman.
In fact, Teixeira, who is a member of the PAC, had tabled a motion of no-confidence against Patterson at a Committee meeting in February this year but his Opposition colleagues refused to take up his seat, arguing steadfastly for Patterson to be retained.
The Standing Orders stipulate that only the Opposition can Chair the PAC. However, when Patterson eventually recused himself to allow the motion, none of his Opposition colleagues took up the Chair. Then at subsequent meetings, Patterson failed to put the issue on the agenda.