13 Bills introduced in HOR, Public Accounts Special Motion Rejected

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-07h48m42s74After five months of no meetings, the House of Representatives met in the Capital City at the National Assembly building today. Thirteen bills were introduced. Among those was the Customs and Excise duties amendment bill. That bill addressed the increase in import duties for flour since there are now no licensed required to import flour into the country. The Caribbean development bank youth and community transformation project loan motion was also introduced today. This is a 5 million 200 thousand dollar loan to reduce vulnerability of children and youth to crime and gang especially in certain vulnerable areas of Belize city. There was also a motion on the implication of the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice on the Public policy of Belize; but we will look at some of those a little later on in this newscast.

Meanwhile, the motion made by PUP’s Julius Espat in relation to the Public Accounts Committee was dismissed by the Speaker of the House this afternoon on a procedural error. Espat, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, wanted to change the structure of the committee which currently has 4 members of Government and 2 members from the Opposition. Espat was proposing that the PAC should have two members from the government, two members from opposition, and 3 members from the Senate, one from the church, the business community, and the Unions. Immediately after Espat’s motion, the Prime Misiter said that the motion was entirely misconceived as it had errors from beginning to end and was out of order.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow:

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-07h50m45s80First of all, we’re told that it’s a motion under [Section] 25 of the Standing Orders.  It is really a motion that ought to have been brought pursuant to section 89 of the Standing Orders.  But 89 does not talk particularly about a motion to amend the standing Orders.  It ought to have been brought pursuant to Section 89.  Such a motion requires, as I see here, in 89:1, Mr Speaker, not less than 8 clear days notice.  Even if you get by that particular procedural difficulty, there is another procedural difficulty that it strikes me that even you as Speaker do not have the authority to wave.  Let me read 89:1, Mr Speaker.  “Unless the Speaker shall otherwise direct, not less that eight days notice of the motion to amend the Standing Orders shall be given.”  The second part: “ … and the notice  should be accompanied by a draft of the  proposed amendments.”  Where is the member’s draft of the proposed amendments?  Mr Speaker, what he does is to title this thing “A Motion to Amend Standing Orders,” which again should have gone under 89, and then he sets out a number of  recenters, in the course of which we get a sense of what it is he is trying  to achieve.  He then says, “Now therefore be it resolved that this House amend its Standing Orders,”  Which of the Standing Orders?  But let me continue to read, “Now therefore be it resolved that this House amend its Standing Orders; one, to provide for the formation of a joint Public Accounts Committee, to carry out the current councils of the Public Accounts Committee, as prescribed by Standing Order 74:1:11;  and two, to provide for the selection of four members of the House of Representatives to be members of the joint Public Accounts Committee,”  That is the end of this motion.  Where is the draft that says, “I propose to amend Standing Order 73, which deals with the Constitution of Standing Committees in the following way…” and then you append the language containing the proposed amendment.  Where is the draft that says, “I propose to amend Standing Order number 74?  Because there are several Standing Orders that you would have to amend, if your Motion is ever to see the light of day.

The Speaker of the house also got into the debate, saying to Julius Espat that the Prime Minister did not even have to speak and he, the Speaker,  already knew what he was going to do because of the procedural errors in Mr Espat’s motion.

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-08h36m50s60I will respond to the motion.  There’s an objection that I take myself.  You have not proposed the sections that you want to amend.  Why didn’t you do that? 

 

 

 

Hon Julius Espat:

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-08h43m26s154Mr Speaker, with all due respect, if something is not working we need to find a way for it to work.  Are you in agreement with that?

 

 

 

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

Yes, Member.  That is your opinion Member.  All I am saying is , yes but there is a way to do things.

Hon Julius Espat:

If something is not working, are you in agreement with me that we find ways to solve it?  I am saying, this motion will not go away.  So let the Prime Minister join us to find a way to do it his way, so that it can benefit the people of Belize.

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

You can stand and respond for as long as you want, but let me tell you something.  The National Assembly is not a testing-ground to see where…..

Hon Julius Espat:

Well, the people of Belize are dying, because you don’t you don’t allow them to get through a presentation for them.  That is the problem, and if you don’t realize that problem, then we are wasting our time.   That is the problem. 

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

Member, what is most regrettable is that what I don’t understand, former Prime Minister, if the Member for Cayo South had checked with his own senior member on this side, you would have told him how to properly bring a Motion.   Not because you may be emotionally investing, or you feel like you have a right to say something either, you can come to the National Assembly with any Motion posting any acceptable parts.

Rt. Hon Said Musa – Former Prime Minister:

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-09h04m19s192Agreed, Mr Speaker, agreed.  What I am saying is that there is an alternative way of looking at this thing.  I wish you would hear more Mr Speaker.  When you look at Standing Order 72, Mr Speaker, it is saying that “When the House first meets after a General Election, or soon thereafter as may be convenient, the following Select Committees, in these Standing Orders referred to as Standing Committees, shall be appointed…”  One of these Select Committees, now called Standing Committees, is the Public Accounts Committee.  Are you with me so far? If we go from there, as the Prime Minister did, to 73 and thereafter, to show how the select Committees are composed, yes we do reach the point where you have to get to a Committee of Selection and make the appointment.  What  I understand this motion is all about  is 78, that  “The House may for the purposes of any Select Committee”, it doesn’t say Special Select Committee, Prime Minister, “any Select Committee,” which includes the Public Accounts Committee,  it’s saying, “The House may for the purposes of any Select Committee appoint a Joint Select Committee.”  What I understand this motion, Mr Speaker, to be brought here for is whether or not this House  with its majority is prepared to form and appoint a joint select Committee.  Is it prepared to do so?  If it is not prepared to do so, then we’re wasting time that we can go into Select Committee, or the Committee of Selection.  The member is trying to get the sense of the House,. And he’s entitled to do so.

Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition, Hon. Francis Fonseca, admitted that the Prime Minister raised valid concerns via his technical objection.

Hon Francis Fonseca – Leader of the opposition:

We heard a long lengthy objection, a very technical objection, from the order of the Prime Minister, and he had raised valid concerns about the motion.  The question is, can we agree that there is the need for us to reform this Public Accounts Committee?  My sense is that there is a general perception among Belizean people that there is a need for such reform, and the question is, how do we move forward?  If the Prime Minister and his Government is saying, we are happy with the current status and structure of the Public Accounts Committee, there is no need to change, well that will be the end of the debate.  The objective of the motion is to put on the table the need for reform, and we are prepared to work with the Government to achieve that reform.  The Prime Minister is a very good lawyer, and he has done his research.  If he can assist in the process of making this motion better and enhancing the objectives of  the motion, we welcome that.  If he wants to put the Attorney General’s Ministry to work with the member for Cayo South, the Chairman of the PAC,  then let them do so.  But let us give the Belizean people what we believe they are asking for, a better, more effective, counseling Public Accounts Committee.  That is the objective.  Are you for it, or are you against that?

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

My question has to be then, why wasn’t that done before it was brought to the House?

Hon Francis Fonseca – Leader of the opposition:

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-09h49m58s146The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee wanted to do that through the committee.  He wanted to do that through the Public Accounts Committee, but you all don’t want to work with him.  You don’t want to go to meetings.  You don’t want to go to work. If the Public Accounts Committee was functioning, Mr Speaker, and the chairman could table these matters before the committee and get some consensus to how we can improve the work of their own Committee, we will do that.  But the Committee is not counseling.  They don’t even attend the meetings of the Committee. 

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

Well, you can’t just bring a motion and get your way, and think that you can ignore the Standing Orders to get your Motion.  Like I said before, the House of representatives is not a place where you come to see if somebody will support a Motion, you come here to bring a Motion,  and you have to be in conformity with the Standing Orders.  Essentially then, the Member for Cayo South would, I would imagine, be getting rid of the Standing Orders to say that he could no longer be Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.  Even if that’s what he wants to do, you have to bring the specific amendments that you want to make. 

Hon Julius Espat:

Mr Speaker, as far as I understand there are various interpretations of the Standing Orders.  Mr Speaker, you have the power and authority of the House.  What we want is to confine to what you interpret the standing Orders to be.  So I will personally sit with you so you can guide me to make sure it is your way.

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

We had a conversation.  I tried to advise you, but you were having none of it. 

Hon Julius Espat:

Mr Speaker, I just need to inform that I have no conversations with people from his side that want to inform us. 

Michael Peyrefitte – Speaker of the House:

Member, based on the objections, and my reading of the Standing Orders, the motion falls on the floor, and it has to be dismissed.

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