AFTER some six hours of heated debate in the National Assembly, which started at 23:30hrs on Monday and ended in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), David Patterson, was removed as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The motion was moved by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, and received the full support of the Government side of the House, plus the support of Opposition MP, Lenox Shuman, who voted in favour of removing Patterson; the motion was passed by a vote of 34 votes in favour, 31 against.
The Order Paper listed the motion seeking the removal of Patterson as the Chairperson of the PAC, as a result of his conduct as Chairperson of the PAC, with respect to this open violation of the Standing Orders, among other things, causing the majority of the Committee to lose confidence in him as Chairperson.
However, before the motion was read, leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, rose in an attempt to have the motion disqualified on the ground that it is ‘sub judice’ – meaning the matter is under judicial consideration, and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere.
He referenced the criminal charges Patterson is currently faced with in relation to the Demerara Harbour Bridge scandal, and explained that the underlying principle under the ‘sub judice’ rule is to ensure trials are not prejudiced by Parliamentary commentary, as even magistrates and judges pay attention to Parliamentary debates.
“This no-confidence motion goes towards the character of Mr. David Patterson, and in the Magistrates’ Court, as we speak, there are criminal charges against him,” Ramjattan told the House, noting “there is substantial risk of prejudice to those proceedings” by virtue of what was going to be debated in the National Assembly.
But the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C., explained that under the Constitution of Guyana, Parliament has the authority to regulate its own procedures and business; and outlined that the motion sought to provide some level of censure against a member whose conduct has been impugned in a component of the National Assembly, the PAC.
“This motion … mentions nothing about any charge … whatever charge he is facing, this motion has absolutely no relevance, no connection, no nexus, makes no reference whatsoever,” Nandlall said, and reiterated, “Mr. Patterson’s criminal culpability is not the subject of this motion … they are disparate and different issues.”
NO WAY “RASH”
Patterson was nominated and declared Chairperson of the PAC on December 28, 2020. In introducing the motion, Teixeira noted that her move to table the motion to the House for his removal as Chairperson was in no way “rash” and referenced the series of events which transpired at the Committee level that led to her decision.
In recalling the series of events which led to the motion being tabled in Parliament, Teixeira highlighted that the Committee started to scrutinise the Auditor General’s 2016 Report when several issues were raised by the Government side of the committee but were “put down” by the Chairperson.
This led to Teixeira, on February 1, 2021, attempting to put forward a motion seeking to remove Patterson from his post as Chairman of the PAC; however it was met with objection from the Opposition side of the PAC.
When the PAC sat on February 8, 2021, the stalemate continued, as the opposition remained determined not to replace Patterson as Chairman of the committee. That persistent reluctance on the part of the APNU+AFC members to entertain the motion continued in March, 2021, when Teixeira signalled that it is likely to result in the Government members seeking the intervention of the National Assembly.
The Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, was also summoned to provide guidance and clarity on the way forward. One Whereas clause on the Order Paper lists Patterson disregarding the Clerk on several occasions with regard to Standing Orders and that he has no respect for the Speaker as reason for moving the motion.
Teixeira labelled the A Partnership For National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) criticism, in relation to the removal of Patterson, that the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Government is trying to avoid scrutiny of the Auditor General’s reports as “bizarre,” and highlighted that the reports currently being examined are for the years 2016 to 2019, the period where APNU+AFC were in government.
“We are not being allowed in the PAC to review the Auditor General’s reports on his findings in the reports; we still have most of 2016 to deal with. So when my Honourable member says that we are trying to stymie an examination of the public accounts who is really stymieing the accounts?” Teixeira asked.
“The Honourable member has disobeyed the Speaker of the House; he has showed total disrespect for the Speaker, the Clerk and this National Assembly, and the fact that he has used every subterfuge to ensure that the motion isn’t put, if we were in another environment Mr. Speaker I would probably say that the person doesn’t have courage,” she told the House.
Government MP and Minister of Public Works, Bishop Juan Edghill told the house that the matter should have been resolved by the political leadership of the Opposition. However, their failure to do so highlighted that “leadership is in crisis” in the political opposition.
Edghill listed his support for the motion as pertaining to the work of the PAC being compromised with Patterson as chair, as he would have to examine and scrutinise statutory officers whom he presided over while serving as Minister of Public Infrastructure, and has nothing to do with his criminal charges.
“The person who is currently serving as Chairman of the PAC is putting us, and as a subset of this National Assembly, is putting the entire National Assembly under a cloud, question and can bring our work into disrepute and cause us to be looked upon as dishonourable in the eyes of the public,” Edghill argued.
Opposition Member, attorney-at-law, Roysdale Forde, S.C., told the House that there is absolutely no basis in fact to support the motion, which he believes is “misconceived”. He contended that there is no precedent before the Assembly which allows the motion to be moved, and it should have been rejected completely.
In her closing arguments, Teixeira told the House that the PAC was being held at “ransom” by Patterson repeatedly refusing to put the motion to a vote at the Committee level, noting that she was hesitant to submit the motion for his removal to the House, as she had hoped that Patterson would have resigned.
“No Chairperson is so entrenched and so entitled to the position that he cannot, or she cannot be removed, just like a government can be removed; if a government can be removed, why not a Chairperson of a Committee? It’s logical, isn’t it? It’s logical or is that the Chairman of the PAC has Patterson written on the chair,” Teixeira asked.