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Aug 18, 2017

Julius Espat Walks Out After Being Denied Speaking Time on Audit Report

The House of Representatives’ special session in Belmopan today was chock-full of news inside and outside. There were eight bills presented, one of which was taken through all its stages, and the Auditor General’s Annual Report for 2012 to 2013 was tabled. Our coverage begins with the audit, which was only tabled. It discusses in detail investigations into the activities of the Ministry of Works and others, but not all ministries.  Actual discussion is to take place at the public session of the Public Accounts Committee once it is called by Cayo South area representative and Chairman Julius Espat, but there are already indications that members from the government side will not be attending.  But in a near-repeat of what took place last August, Espat rose on adjournment to speak about the Auditor General’s report and was shut down by Speaker Laura Longsworth.  This time, he left the House chamber on his own two feet, but still feeling hard done by, as Aaron Humes reports.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Though she was the model of calm, House Speaker Laura Longsworth made it clear that Cayo South area representative Julius Espat’s elevated role did not spare him from the rules of the House of Representatives. Nor did it ensure that he would not suffer the same fate as he did almost a year ago under Michael Peyrefitte.

 

Julius Espat, Area Rep., Cayo South

“Madam Speaker, I rise today on a matter of public concern, and that is the report of the Auditor General for the year 2012 to 2013, I want to make some comments on it.”

 

Laura Longsworth, Speaker of the House

“I’m sorry, honorable member; that was referred to committee.”

 

Julius Espat

“Yes, ma’am, but I am the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and I can refer to it.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“Yes, but we haven’t had the report from you yet.”

 

Julius Espat

“No, ma’am; but I’m just making some comments on it; I’m not reporting on it.”

 

Laura Longsworth

Laura Longsworth

“But that’s unusual, isn’t it?”

 

Julius Espat

“No, ma’am; last year it was allowed even though I was kicked out, it was allowed initially.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“Thanks for reminding me, honorable member.”

 

Julius Espat

“And I wouldn’t like that to be repeated again, Madam Speaker.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“(Laughs) Me neither, but at the end of the day, though, as we’ve discussed before….”

 

Julius Espat

“This is the only opportunity that Opposition members have to show transparency, by means of ventilating the issues.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“Honorable member, we know the House rules.”

 

Julius Espat

“I want to see the House rule that says I cannot speak on the adjournment.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“We have referred it to you, you are the chair; can we move on from that?”

 

Julius Espat

Julius Espat

“I can’t, ma’am, because this is exactly we need to do.”

 

The Speaker brushed away the point of order raised by former prime minister Said Musa and the entreaties of the Leader of the Opposition John Briceno, requesting that until the Public Accounts Committee meets and makes its report, it could not be raised on the House’s agenda. Espat kept a measured, though annoyed, tone in his response. Prime Minister Dean Barrow also chimed in, welcoming his plans but chiding what he considered unnecessarily rude behaviour.

 

Julius Espat

“I am extremely disappointed on your decision, Madam Speaker, but I would just like to inform you that a letter was sent to you this morning.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“Yes, I have it.”

 

Julius Espat

“And that I will be convening public hearings of the Public Accounts Committee based on the report, Madam Speaker, because this issue has to be ventilated; the Belizean people have to get to the bottom of it, and it is a sad day today that again, we are going down the road, the undemocratic way, Madam Speaker, when you are not allowing members of this legislature to ventilate the issues that are hurting us, Madam Speaker; but we will leave it at that. Thank you very much.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“Thank you too.”

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Madam Speaker, I am sorry; I have to protest. That’s very unfair for the member to suggest that because you are regulating the business of the House in accordance with the standing orders, that you are being [undemocratic]. Lord, man, look at what the standing orders say: all proposed legislation, messages, petitions, reports, shall go to the respective House committees, and under the P.A.C. it tells you: Auditor General’s Reports should go to the P.A.C. You can’t debate something before it goes to the P.A.C. He has already announced publicly that he will summon a meeting of the P.A.C. – hallelujah! And that is where everything will be… (Interruption) You see, and then you have to behave like…anyway, Madam Speaker, I take offense that he should accuse you of being undemocratic.”

 

Espat says this is the third time he has left the House before his time, and he contends that as in the other two cases, he’s simply doing or trying to do his job, not trying to get his own way.

 

Julius Espat

“My way is the people’s way; and that is we want clarity; we want accountability; we want transparency. My way is to make sure that our democracy works, for and on behalf of the people of Belize. I have told you over and over again: we Belizeans are too complacent. We get run over, we get slapped in our faces, we get abused by the political masters and we seem to love it, and like it and want to go along with it; I am just one of those, and I assume that there are more, who would like to stand up. But I was given an opportunity as an elected member to do it on the national stage. And I believe, if you follow what happens all over the world, for things to change, for the status quo to change for the better, you have to have people who are willing stand up and fight for the rights of the people who cannot fight for their own rights; that’s how I see it.”

 

But the Prime Minister does not appear to be worried.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“There are things in the report that clearly are worrying with respect to incidents that happened not just under our administration, it certainly went way beyond that, certainly in terms of education. But any report from the Auditor General deserves to be ventilated and must be ventilated, and there are clear provisions in our laws and in the standing orders for that to be done. First of all, I am obliged to lay it on the table when it comes to me. When that is done, it is obligatory that it go to the Public Accounts Committee. The Public Accounts Committee, the chairman has already signaled, will be meeting shortly, and will go through the report in a way that will see the public be able to follow along, and to be educated as to exactly what’s in the report and to any possible explanations there may be. That’s how it should be and that’s how it is. I find it really distressing and really regrettable that because, in accordance with the standing orders, the member for Cayo South was not able to debate it or ventilate it today; he should walk out in a huff. It really is time we get beyond that.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

As Espat said, the first meeting of the Committee is tentatively scheduled for Monday, August twenty-eighth, at ten a.m. at the National Assembly. The Committee’s members include Patrick Faber, John Saldivar, Frank Mena, and Tracy Taegar-Panton for the Government and Kareem Musa for the Opposition.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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