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National Assembly votes to remove Patterson as Chairman of Public Accounts Committee; APNU+AFC signals defiance

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 June 2021, 8:48 by Denis Chabrol

David Patterson

Government shortly after 5 O’clock this morning used its simple majority in the National Assembly and passed a motion that seeks to oust David Patterson as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The motion was passed by a vote of 34 to 31.

It is left to be seen what would happen when the PAC meets again because already Shadow Attorney General, Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde told the House Tuesday morning that Mr. Patterson could not be removed by a motion. “The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee was not elected, he was not appointed by this Assembly. Mr. Speaker. As a matter of commonsense, the Assembly resolution that it has no confidence in the Chair cannot result in the removal of the Chair,” he told the House. He suggested that the PAC Chairman could only be removed with the support of an opposition member of the committee.

Minister of Governance, Gail Teixeira, who sponsored the motion to remove Mr. Patterson, said in the end the committees are subjected to the majority of the members of the  National Assembly. “The Parliament of Guyana cannot allow the level of any chairperson in any committee to believe that they are somehow impervious to democratic rule, to majority rule otherwise what will be doing? Setting up dictators?,” she said.

She said if the main opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) does not feel that it wants to hold the PAC Chairmanship, the Committee would appoint a chair day-by-day in keeping with the standing orders. “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 the chairman of a committee,” said the Governance Minister.

Ms. Teixeira says the government first tried to address concerns about him at the Committee since February 1, 2021.

She says Mr. Patterson was not fair, refused to give government members of the PAC a hearing and even ignored the inputs of the Speaker and the Clerk of the National Assembly to resolve the issue.  This included refusing to allow a government-sponsored motion in the Committee to remove him. “I no longer have doubts that the Honourable Member has disobeyed the Speaker of the House, he has shown total disrespect for he Speaker, the Clerk and this National Assembly and the fact that he has used every subterfuge to ensure that the motion isn’t put… There is a motion against him and he has used every single attempt to avoid it being put,” she told the House.

Mr. Forde charged that House Speaker Mansoor Nadir might have been misled because there was no proof to support the claims by Ms. Teixeira. He said the minutes of several meetings would show the difficulties that had been experienced because the PAC could not remove its Chairman by the method that government had sought to use. “The Standing Orders do not provide for the removal of a chair of a committee. That is why they encountered a number of problems over a number of meetings…They were asked to produce the source of the motion. It could not be identified,” said Mr. Forde.

Currently the Standing Orders allow for the PAC Chairman to be drawn from the major opposition party, but already the Governance Minister signaled in her contribution to the debate that government could select the leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), Lenox Shuman. “I wish to remind us here that the opposition is made up of two sets of political parties – the APNU+AFC (A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change) coalition and the LJP representing the joinder groups and so the opposition doesn’t necessarily mean one party over the other or vice versa,” she said.

Mr. Shuman, who is a parliamentarian drawn under the joinder system of a group of parties that had contested the elections separately but had their votes added to determine the number of seats they garnered, endorsed the government-sponsored motion. “If we disobey the very rules that were meant to keep our structures up, then what role models are we to the children of this nation who look up to us and what do we in turn expect from society when our behaviour is so offensive to the rules,” he queried.

But APNU+AFC parliamentarian, Juretha Fernandes says this will be a conflict of interest. Mr. Shuman is Deputy Speaker and a government advisor on aviation. “So this regime now wants to put their employee, the Honourable Lennox Shuman, to chair the committee that scrutinises them- government scrutinising government. That is the textbook definition of dictatorship, Mr. Speaker,” she said.

Lenox Shuman

Opposition coalition lawmaker, Jermaine Figueira said the PPP was peddling false information about Mr. Patterson to use the “tyranny of numbers” with the “underlying aim of engineering the elevation of the Deputy Speaker to become the PAC Chairman so that the PPP can police itself as it spends the people’s money.” Mr. Figueira said although the then PAC Chairman, Irfaan Ali had been facing 19 fraud charges, he had not been hounded down by then David Granger-led administration.

But Mr. Shuman rubbished claims by the opposition that he would replace the major opposition as chairman of that committee to examines spending by the government based on findings by the Auditor General. “This accusation that seems to emanate from my colleagues in the opposition that myself would want to replace any member on that side is unfounded and false and it needs to be dispatched immediately,” he said.

Senior Counsel Forde, however, said he had no confidence in Mr. Shuman’s assurance as he was confident that government’s plan was to eventually amend the Standing Orders to allow government to select the PAC Chairman from any opposition party instead of the main opposition party. “Mr. Speaker, you can’t have a proxy, a puppet, an instrumentality of an installed government occupying the chair of the Public Accounts Committee. You putting a cat to watch milk,” he said.