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Phillips defends Warmington in House spat

Published:Tuesday | October 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Mikael Phillips, chairman of the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee. File

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Chairman of the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee, Mikael Phillips, was robust in defending the stewardship of Everald Warmington, regarding questions about operations of the National Works Agency (NWA) for which he has ministerial oversight, during Tuesday’s meeting.

This was after Member of Parliament for Western St Andrew, Anthony Hylton, also a member of the parliamentary opposition, questioned the appropriateness of Warmington, minister of state in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, sitting in on a pending report from the NWA, to be submitted to the committee.

“The first time we started to meet as a new Parliament, I think member Warmington himself, when NWA was coming to us, basically excused himself. He had done that as a matter of principle,” Phillips said in dismissing the notion of a potential conflict of interest.

Members were discussing the timeline for the committee which had last met on Tuesday, February 6, to get an update from the NWA about major road works, when Hylton objected to the member of parliament for South West St Catherine taking part, citing Standing Order 68(3), as follows:

“Subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 71, a Sessional Select Committee shall consist of not less than six members, including the Chairman, none of whom shall be a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary.”

Hylton zoomed in on pivotal importance of this clause. “The whole objective of the standing order and the rule requiring that ministers not be part of the committee (is) cause we would have a situation where the minister who is part of this committee reviewing work that is supposed to be reported to us, from the technical bodies in the ministry.

“And the standing order is wise in the requirement that the minister or ministers in general, in this case the minister with responsibility for the project and that area of the ministry is part of the committee. I believe that that will not be an (sic) healthy situation for the questioning, having regard to the fact that the minister will be here directing the technical people.”

The veteran politician was swift on rebuttal, highlighting Hylton’s selective recollection and understanding of such parliamentary procedures. He lamented the failure of the deputy chairman of the People’s National Party to appreciate how successive administrations had dealt with this troublesome clause time and again.

“I fail to see what you are saying. If the member is on the committee, it doesn’t prevent the officers from answering the questions. If you look in the first paragraph of the report, it says, ‘not withstanding Standing Order 68(3)’, in accordance with Standing Order 68(1) and I and J and 73(c). You voted for it. Each time the committees come before this House, they are always voted on unanimously. I spoke to the leader of opposition business about it and reminded how many times he invoked ‘not withstanding Standing Order 68(3)’, so how you going to question it now?

“Every single administration include members or ministers, or ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries on committees … and the last time we had a review of the standing orders and I ask in the committee, ‘Let us delete 68(3). Chairman Peart who was speaker said no, leave it. We just work with it and say ‘notwithstanding’, but I believe this ought to be removed.”

Warmington went on to point out that the situation had prevailed for a long time, to the point of acceptance because of the usual shortage of backbenchers to adequately people the various select committees of government.

“So every administration has done that and you, member, you voted for it every time for it,” he scolded Hylton.

“Yes,” was the emphatic affirmation from Committee Chairman Phillips.

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