Chairing of the parliamentary oversight committee on foreign affairs by PNM MP, Marlene Mc Donald with her deputy being Paula Gopee-Scoon sends the wrong signal that, notwithstanding comments to the contrary, this PNM administration is not interested in transparency, accountability and parliamentary oversight of its ministries.
Their actions of controlling many oversight committees in the current parliament are also inconsistent with parliamentary best practices globally.
The majority of members on the foreign affairs oversight committee of parliament for example are from the PNM which used its majority to elect their colleagues to both leadership posts.
During the last PP administration the foreign affairs committee was chaired by an independent senator.
MP for Naparima made the comments in the light of a current series lectures and seminars entitled: “Parliamentary Oversight: A Model for Small States” conducted by Professor Frederick Stapenhurst of Mc Gill university.
An Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) report notes, “the simple presence of members of the opposition in oversight committees is not enough to guarantee effective parliamentary oversight.
The composition of the committee’s leadership is important because it is usually responsible for preparing committees’ draft work programmes.”
David Beetham writes in a 2007 IPU report ‘Parliament and Democracy in the 21st century: A Guide to Good Practice’ that “while the interest of the opposition lies in the most rigorous oversight of the Executive, members of the governing party can use their majority to ensure that ministers are not embarrassed by exposure or a critical report”.
Parliamentary oversight committees are the best way to ensure scrutiny of the Executive since “the impetus to get government business through and strongly enforced party discipline have combined to limit the number of voices heard in Parliament says a 2003 report prepared by Parliament of Canada.
The present series conducted by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, on Parliamentary oversight is indeed timely and welcomed.
It would help, however, if this PNM administration understands that actions speak louder than words and that eternal vigilance and scrutiny of Executive actions are the bedrock of true democracies.
“We can have all the seminars we wish but unless there is a willingness to employ fully the available mechanisms for parliamentary oversight then all will be in vain”, says the MP.
MP for Naparima