Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, has defended Government’s move to change the quorum of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), saying it is not an attack on accountability, but it rather enhances it.
Last week, the National Assembly passed a motion that sought to assert Government’s presence at the PAC meetings by making it mandatory for both sides to be present in order for a quorum to be established before any decision is made. As such, the quorum was increased from three Members of Parliament from either side to now five MPs from both sides.
However, there have been criticisms that this change would stymie the work of the PAC and would facilitate a lack of transparency, but according to AG Nandlall, this change would bring greater accountability and scrutiny to the work of the PAC instead.
“I reject the call of those in the public domain, who argue that the increase of the quorum from three to five in the Public Accounts Committee constitutes an attack on accountability. In my view, it enhances accountability; it brings greater participation, it brings greater scrutiny, it allows for bipartisan interrogation, instead of unilateral interrogation.
“I believe the larger the number…of people’s representatives being assembled together would mean better representation by the people, because that is what the Parliament is – representing the people. So, if you have five Parliamentarians, you have greater and wider representation of the public’s interests and of the people’s interests,” the AG stated during his weekly programme, Issues In The News.
As it is, the PAC comprises nine members – five Government MPs and four Opposition MPs, with the Chairman also being an Opposition Member. The Committee’s primary function is to scrutinise the state’s expenditures over specified periods.
But Nandlall disclosed that A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNNU/AFC) Opposition has been taking advantage of this pre-existing quorum.
“What we found happening was because the Committee was scrutinising the APNU/AFC years in office – 2016 and 2017 – three Opposition Members of that Committee can come together and make a quorum and start the meeting if the Government people are late, and proceed to rush through accounts relating to the years that the APNU/AFC was in Government. Now, how is that good for accountability?” the Legal Affairs Minister questioned.
On this note, AG Nandlall explained that the change was made to give equity and balance to the quorum: that is, the Opposition Chairperson along with two Opposition MPs and two Government MPs will now make up the quorum of the Committee.
“A five-member Committee scrutinising a document, would that not be better than a three-member Committee scrutinising the document? Would there not be greater eyes? Would there not be greater bipartisanship? Will there not be greater equity and parity? Would there not be greater number in terms of participation?” he queried.
“I don’t understand how some commentators in the press have interpreted this move as an assault on accountability. I thought it was an augmentation of accountability,” Nandlall contended.
The motion, which amended Standing Order 82 to change the quorum of the PAC, was brought by Government Chief Whip, Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira.
During the debates before the passage last Wednesday, Minister Teixeira explained that this step was being taken to ensure that no decision is made by the PAC unless all members are present.
She also clarified that this change will in no way delay the work of the Committee.