The House of Assembly last Thursday voted to appoint Deputy Speaker Neville Smith and three opposition members — Opposition Leader Marlon Penn, Third District Representative Julian Fraser, and Second District Representative Mitch Turnbull — to the Public Accounts Committee shortly amending the Standing Orders to allow for a PAC of four members instead of the previous minimum of five.

As opposition leader, Mr. Penn (D-8) will automatically serve as chairman.

The Standing Orders Committee — consisting of Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone (R-at large); Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio Wheatley (R-D7); Transportation, Works and Utilities Minister Kye Rymer (R-D5); Mr. Penn; and Mr. Fraser — introduced the amendments to the HOA, which subsequently passed them.

Under the previous wording of the Standing Orders, in a committee of five, three members were needed to form a quorum, and four members were needed in a committee of seven. Under the amendment, two members can form a quorum for a committee of three; three members can form a quorum for a committee of four or five; and four members can form a quorum for a committee of seven.

In the event of a tie, the chairperson will have a “casting vote” in addition to their original vote.
After the amendments were adopted, Premier Andrew Fahie moved to appoint the members to the PAC, and the HOA voted to do so.

Ministers not eligible

During discussions, Mr. Fraser expressed concern about current rules governing the PAC, which dictate that a minister or junior minister cannot sit on the committee.

Currently, Mr. Smith (R-at large), as the only member of the ruling party without a ministerial position, is the only majority member who can sit on the PAC.

If the ruling party had only seven members in the HOA, there would be none who could serve on the committee, which Mr. Fraser said could lead to a “constitutional crisis.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Turnbull (R-D2) took issue with the gender-specific language in the Standing Orders and the Constitution, which refers to “he,” “him” and “chairman,” and urged that it be updated to reflect the current reality of women holding office.

Mr. Malone, the chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, thanked Mr. Fraser for his suggestions, and said he would take them into account during the upcoming constitutional review. He also told Mr. Turnbull that the electronic version of the Standing Orders would be updated to reflect more gender-inclusive language.