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Moultrie: Ministers Should Give Answers

Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie. File Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff

Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie. File Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

HOUSE Speaker Halson Moultrie wants to make ministers answer questions in the House of Assembly and hopes the Rules Committee of the lower chamber ensures this happens.

The ability of the official opposition to question Cabinet ministers is a popular feature of the United Kingdom's parliamentary practice, and although local rules allow for it to happen here, they also allow for the provision to be easily bypassed.

"I believe all governments should be accountable to the people and there should be absolutely no reason why any member of the government, including the prime minister, should not be open to answering questions in a parliamentary democracy," Mr Moultrie told The Tribune.

The Rules of Procedure of the House of Assembly, which govern the functions of Parliament, note question time "shall be held on the second Wednesday of each month provided the House is sitting during that month."

Mr Moultrie said: "We are seeking to have that rule strengthened because it currently gives Parliament the option to determine otherwise that another type of business can supersede the questioning on that day. We want the rules to be written so that if it's not the second Wednesday when question time takes place, then the very next sitting it happens. The rules need to be written in a way where there is no option to avoid answering questions.

"The Rules Committee indicated to me that they would've met last Friday. I don't know if that happened but I suspect I should be getting a report from the Rules Committee fairly soon. I submitted a number of recommendations that I believe would strengthen the rules. They don't have to adopt my recommendations but I don't believe that the rules right now as they exist are in the best interest of independence and minority parties. I believe deepening of democracy is essential. That is actually our theme in this 290th year anniversary, the strengthening and deepening of our democracy."

One of the most controversial parts of this parliamentary session has been the Minnis administration's refusal to produce documents demanded by the opposition-led Public Accounts Committee. In justifying its decision, the administration has cited the ruling of former House Speaker Dr Kendal Major who ruled that only audited public accounts tabled in Parliament are reviewable by the PAC.

Although Mr Moultrie expressed disagreement with that ruling in the past, this week he said he has delayed making a ruling because he does not believe the PAC is doing all it can within its current framework.

"It is misleading to suggest that the hands of the PAC is tied," he said. "The existing ruling calls for matters to be audited, for the auditor general's report to be tabled and referred to the committee. I've referred 30 reports to the Public Accounts Committee so the committee has lots of work that it can do and there is a position in law that causes one to not benefit from its own wrongdoing. I have prepared my decision but I have not released it because I am concerned the PAC is not functioning when it can under the existing ruling."

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