Thursday, January 24, 2019
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
CENTREVILLE MP Reece Chipman resigned from the Public Accounts Committee yesterday out of frustration with the immobility of the traditionally powerful parliamentary sub-committee.
The PAC, which examines public finances, has done little of consequence this term.
The Minnis administration has refused its requests for information, having interpreted a 2015 ruling from former House Speaker Dr Kendal Major as barring the committee from reviewing anything not brought to the House of Assembly by the auditor general.
Mr Chipman sought to table his PAC resignation letter in the House of Assembly yesterday, but Speaker Halson Moultrie denied him, saying he did not give notice of his intention to table the document beforehand as protocol requires.
In the letter later sent to the media, Mr Chipman said: “The Public Accounts Committee is one of the most prestigious committees in the Commonwealth parliamentary system. As a matter of fact, Westminster acknowledges it as the most important committee of the House of Assembly. In addition to its constitutional functions, Parliament maintains oversight of government’s financial matters through the Public Accounts Committee.”
He also noted: “Public Accounts Committee can only review reports laid before the House, most of which are substantially behind and irrelevant at this time. The only relevance is the political ping-pong which the next generation of Bahamians can care less about. The Bahamian people want clarity on, how much money we have? How much do we need and what are we spending it on?”
Speaker Moultrie, in an interview with The Tribune yesterday, said Mr Chipman’s letter highlighted several grievances that have nothing to do with the PAC.
The letter captures Mr Chipman's frustration with Parliament’s failure to move motions to establish select committees on several issues he has raised. Last April he said he would move a motion calling for separate committees to investigate "fake news" and natural resources.
He wrote in the letter: “The select committees on the natural resources and sovereign wealth fund and fake news (are) still on the agenda for almost a year. Once again the Westminster system allows for democracy and freedom of speech and rights of privilege.”
In response, Speaker Moultrie told The Tribune: “Once you give notice of your intention to move for the appointment of a select committee, whenever I go through the order of business, I ask for the appointment of select committees. He is supposed to get up at that time and move for his select committee, state the reasons for it, start the debate on it, have someone second it and if no one wants to second it, put it to a vote. If you read his letter you get the impression that for one year he’s been trying to get this committee and he was not permitted to do so, which is not accurate.
“I explained to him before we went into the summer recess, I asked if he was ready, he indicated to me at that time that he wasn’t ready and I said okay, your matter is already on the agenda, as soon as we reconvene after the summer you can bring your matter. But he just never brought it.”
Mr Chipman also complained that Parliament has yet to facilitate a question-and-answer period as rules allow. Additionally, he complained that House rules are not settled because there are multiple rule books in rotation.
He said: “Therefore, Mr Speaker, in light of the above, as well as the absence of a House approved terms of reference for the Public Accounts Committee and the fact that the member for Killarney and the prime minister of the Bahamas has publicly called the Public Accounts Committee functionless, I hereby submit my resignation effective immediately.”
For his part, Mr Moultrie has yet to say whether he agrees with his predecessor's ruling on the powers of the PAC or accepts the Minnis administration’s interpretation of it.
He said he cannot rule on the matter because PAC Chairman, Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay MP Philip “Brave” Davis, has not officially raised the matter in the House of Assembly.
“As I explained to the chairman of the PAC, I cannot as the presiding officer just appeal a ruling,” he said. “Someone has to make an application to me, stating the grounds upon which I should act to revise the decision and perhaps overturn it.”
The Official Opposition has made little effort to get him to resolve the matter in their favour, Mr Moultrie admitted.
“It is their Speaker that made the ruling,” he said, “and I think the difficulty that they are having is that if they make an application and set out the particular grounds, they will feel they are undermining their own Speaker.”