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PPPC’s parliamentary absence weakens oversight

The vacant chairs set aside for the 32 PPPC parliamentarians. At right are the government MPs.

The first sitting of the 11th Parliament took place on Wednesday, June 10th and the second sitting is slated for June 25th, but the refusal of the Opposition party to take up its seats can impede the functioning of some Parliamentary committees and degrade the scrutiny value of others.

In fact, the ability of the National Assembly itself to scrutanise the work of the Executive is diluted significantly by the absence of the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) opposition on grounds that the May 11, 2015 general elections were fraudulent.

This is according to Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs.

He listed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Parliament Management Committee, both Standing Committees, as two committees which cannot commence their functions without the presence of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs).

In accordance with the Standing Orders (SOs) of the National Assembly the PAC, which is tasked with examining expenditure and other accounts of public institutions, is to be comprised of not less than six (6) and not more than ten (10) Members who are to be nominated “as soon as may be after the beginning of each National Assembly.”

However, SO 82 (2) stipulates that the Chairman of the PAC “must be a Member of the main Opposition in the Assembly.” As such, the PAC, which usually meets every Monday, cannot commence its work until the Opposition decides to take its seats.

With regard to the Parliament Management Committee, Isaacs says that it “requires five persons for a quorum.”

Elaborating, he said that two of the five Members must come from government while another two must belong to the government. The other person is the Speaker of the National Assembly. “If we don’t have any Opposition members then we don’t have a quorum, and without a quorum we can’t have a meeting,” Isaacs told Demerara Waves Online News.

Furthermore, the Parliamentary Management Committee, which has a membership of 10, must be comprised of five members representing the Opposition. As such, the committee cannot be properly constituted in the absence of the opposition party, much less reach a stage where its meetings are dependent on the quorum being met.

The work of the four (4) Sectoral Committees – The Committee on Natural Resources; the Committee on Economic Services, the Committee on Foreign Relations; and the Committee on Social Services – is also compromised in the absence of the Opposition.

These committees, which have responsibility for scrutaising all areas of government policy and administration, are to be comprised of seven (7) members, four (4) representing government and three (3) representing the Opposition. Isaacs says that the quorum for these committees do not require the presence of Opposition members, and said he does not “think it is wise to have government scrutinising its own policies.

Again though, the committees cannot be properly constituted unless three (3) Opposition members are nominated to it by the Committee of Selection.

British High Commissioner, Gregory Quinn, also believes that the absence of the Opposition in the National Assembly to be bad for the effective functioning of the National Assembly.