Speaker of Parliament, Simeon Seule, has written a 20-point letter to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), conveying his decision to suspend all PAC meetings.
Dated Monday 11th of November 2019, the notice of suspension was copied to the Parliament Clerk, Prime Minister, Leader and Deputy of Opposition and all PAC members.
Mr Seule informed Acting PAC Chairman, MP Ephraim Kalsakau that as Speaker he has noted alleged irregularities committed by PAC in relation to the Constitution and convening of the PAC as a Parliamentary Standing Committee under Mr Kalsakau’s leadership.
He stated, “the current body under your Acting- Chairmanship was established by Motion 8 of 2016 by the 11th Legislature who saw before your time, the Chairmanship of MP Hosea Nevu until your election by nomination of the Leader of Opposition and appointment by former Speaker of Parliament Esmon Saimon on 23rd February 2018, in accordance with section 5 (3) of the Act that stipulates (with emphasis) that:
‘If the Parliament is not in session and the position of chairperson is vacant, the Speaker of Parliament may appoint a member of the parliament who satisfies the criteria in subsection (1) to act as the chairperson until the parliament appoints the chairperson’”.
The Speaker stated that in light of the said provision, all meetings are to be suspended until the members of the committee are appointed by parliament as per the procedure prescribed by section 49(1) of the Standing Orders of Parliament.
He said Standing Committees are constituted pursuant to Article 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu and operate on exceptional powers that are conferred to them by the parliament.
He said this is why all Standing Committees are to be constituted through the election and endorsement of its members in parliament by way of a motion, if not prior to deliberating, upon the next parliamentary sitting and the PAC is no exception.
Mr Seule said there is no doubt that the PAC has been conducting extensive work since its recent establishment but it must be stressed that all activities conducted under the parliament must be done in total observance of the laws of the Republic.
“I am in receipt of nominations to parliamentary committees from both sides of parliament, including for the PAC that could be acted upon as required by law,” the Speaker noted.
“However, I am precluded from considering the appointments as I have yet to receive a response to my referral of the matter on the constitution of the PAC to the State Law Office.
“All financial benefits and material benefits to the chairman and members shall be discontinued until the PAC is legitimately elected by parliament in the upcoming sitting.
“The Speaker’s office also takes note that whilst financial and material benefits of the PAC are to be suspended, the current members have already exhausted the PAC budget and that should be an area of concern as it seems that too many ad-hoc meetings have been convened in order to discuss agendas that aren’t of any business to this House.”
But the acting Chairman of PAC said the Speaker’s letter which he received at 10am on Tuesday 12th of November (yesterday) is just another politically motivated gesture to disturb the work of the current PAC, with the upcoming session of parliament.
Mr Kalsakau said the current Speaker once deliberately tried to disrupt the work of the PAC committee but he was later informed by the Parliament Clerk that the existing PAC was constituted according to provisions of the law and the Standing Orders of Parliament.
“PAC will convene its meeting on Wednesday 13th of November (today) in the afternoon and will decide on the option to summon the Speaker so he could talk to the committee,” he explained.
Mr Kalsakau said as far as PAC is concerned, the Speaker’s letter is to be considered void ab initio and has no effect.