Controversy, uncertainty continue to shroud report tabling in House

OPPOSITION member Julian Robinson on Tuesday continued to press House Speaker Juliet Holness to share with legislators the opinion of the Attorney General’s Department on the tabling of reports from the Integrity Commission (IC) and the Auditor General’s Department (AuGD).

This issue regarding the treatment of reports has led to heated exchanges in the House of Representatives since midyear when former Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert did not table several AuGD reports and delayed the tabling of IC reports.

Dalrymple-Philibert told the House in July that she had sought the guidance of the attorney general on the matters. In September, after receiving the opinion, she shared the conclusion of the document with the House.

However, this was not enough for Robinson, who pointed out during Tuesday’s sitting of the House that the former speaker only read one paragraph of the ruling.

“She did not read the entire ruling. I asked for it so we could see the full context. I don’t know what she read in the context of maybe a three-, or a four-page ruling, which is why I have been insistent on asking for it. So the fact that she read something cannot substitute for the ruling being shared,” he said.

Robinson noted that when he had previously asked the new House Speaker about sharing the attorney general’s opinion, she had indicated that she would need some time to do her own research and review. So he again asked if the opinion would now be forthcoming.

Holness responded to say that she has reviewed the correspondence from the Attorney General’s Chamber, particularly as it relates to those in respect of the opinion on the IC as it is final.

She noted, however, that the opinion has not been finalised as it relates to the opinion on the auditor general, and she has written to the Attorney General’s Chamber to look at and provide same.

“However, I do take note of your question, whether or not the opinion will be provided. I would like to have a discussion with the President, House Leader, and Deputy House Leader as it relates to my own view as the presiding officer of this chamber,” she said.

Holness hastened to say that having a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Chamber does not mean that this is the stipulation for the House.

“I am very strong in my own perception as speaker that we have to be very careful in believing that seeking advice means that the House is to feel that another body can stipulate how we function as a House. And so, in making decisions, I will not be rash. Having asked the Attorney General’s Chamber’s opinion and read out by the previous speaker is very much in keeping with the speaker’s opinion given earlier. The House did not write the attorney general, the speaker did,” she said.

But Robinson countered her argument, saying that the former speaker cannot seek an opinion in her personal capacity; she sought the opinion as a presiding officer of the House, on behalf of the House.

“That opinion was sought because there is a dispute between how the former speaker treated with these reports, and our view as to how it should be. Given that you have an opinion, whether you agree with it or not, I believe it’s incumbent to share it and then we can have a debate about it,” Robinson said.

“The longer the opinion is held, it heightens the view that the House is withholding it for a particular reason,” he added.

In response, Holness said while she can make a ruling it is not her decision to make a ruling at this time.

“Please allow indulgence so that I have a discussion because I know where my ruling is weighted to go and I would like some additional time,” she said.

In July, Dalrymple-Philibert had explained to the House that she would be withholding three AuGD reports for two months to correct an unlawful practice which offends the Jamaican Constitution.

She said that all AuGD reports have always been tabled in the House upon receipt, whether they pertain to a ministry, an agency, or a public body.

“However, the practice, in general, is not, in my understanding, in keeping with Section 30 of the Financial Audit and Administration [FAA] Act. That section — Section 30 — provides for the Auditor General’s Report on a public body to be tabled where the minister with responsibility for that public body fails to report to this Parliament within a two-month period,” she said.

In terms of the IC reports, Dalrymple-Philibert had pointed out the Integrity Commission Act had amended Section 73d of Parliament’s Standing Orders which “clearly sets out how the report of the Integrity Commission should be treated”.

According to her interpretation, IC reports submitted to the Parliament will now first go to its oversight committee before being tabled.

According to Standing Orders 73d, the oversight committee has the duty to review the annual report and any other report of the commission and to submit recommendations to both Houses of Parliament.

The section also states that the oversight committee is to convene and consider a report submitted under Section 34 of the IC law within 30 days of the submission of the report.