The House of Assembly recently appointed all six opposition members to the Public Accounts Committee — in their absence.

Originally, the House had been slated to approve the same appointments in September when it approved four other HOA committees. But Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley moved to delay the process for the PAC, citing a need to reflect “all the parties of the House” among its membership.

“The Virgin Islands Party is missing,” Dr. Wheatley said in September. “It is not of the interest of good governance to have a committee with all opposition members and not even one member who can provide a dissenting vote if need be. The Standing Orders speaks very clearly about the fact that these committees must reflect all the parties of the House, and there’s a reason for that: to have a balance within the House.”

Dr. Wheatley said at the time that he was awaiting a legal opinion from the attorney general on whether junior ministers could be appointed to the committee.

Six opposition members

On Oct. 31, however, he and other government legislators returned to the matter and voted to appoint an opposition-only PAC after all.

They took the vote in the absence of the opposition members themselves, who had earlier walked out of the meeting to protest the government’s delay of the question-and-answer segment of the meeting.

“Of course, we know that the role of a Public Accounts Committee is very important in holding the government accountable, especially as it pertains to how money is being spent in the territory,” Dr. Wheatley said on Oct. 31 when bringing the resolution for a vote that did not garner any debate by other House members.

He added that his government has never intended to “stifle” the committee’s work, and he strongly criticising opposition members for not being present that evening.

“But that doesn’t matter, because we have a responsibility to ensure that we maintain good governance, accountability and transparency,” he said.

SAP passed too

The House also passed a schedule of additional provisions with amendments on Oct. 31. Dr. Wheatley added the item to the order paper the day of the sitting, and it had not been Gazetted as of yesterday afternoon. He said the SAP provided for recurrent expenditure of $12,544,098, of which $10,553,888 was to be expended in excess of the appropriated amount.

“It’s a shame that the opposition is not present for a very important exercise,” the premier said at the time. “It’s always good to have a balanced perspective, and the opposition has an important job to play.”