After his scheduled appearance before the Privileges Committee was yesterday cancelled without reason, opposition Member of Parliament Juan Edghill voiced his frustration over the drawn-out proceedings against him.
Last Monday, Edghill was summoned to appear before the committee to answer questions in relation to a comment he made during a parliamentary debate in 2015.
Edghill told reporters at the Public Buildings yesterday that at about 1.40 pm, he received communication from Speaker Barton Scotland indicating that the hearing was cancelled and that he would be informed as to further developments.
He voiced suspicion and frustration at both the timing of the summons he received last week and the decision to cancel the meeting at which he had been invited to answer questions.
“I feel harassed and feel that I’m not given adequate opportunity to clear my name as it relates to this matter. I’ve attended to the Privileges Committee since November 25, 2016, at which I presented documentation with my calculations showing my justification. At minimum, you could’ve given us a reasons to say this is why we are cancelling. I’m under the cloud while the committee enjoys the luxury of keeping me under the cloud,” Edghill lamented.
The shadow Minister of Finance for the PPP/C maintained that he was ready to answer all questions as long as a quorum exists. He added too that any attempt to silence him in the House will fail. He speculated that the issue before the Privileges Committee is only raised at those times when he is most vocal. “I sit as an elected member and can only be removed by the electorate. The Chief Justice has ruled that no member of the House can be silenced. Your right to speak is because you speak on behalf of the people who elected you. I will speak continually. I will not stop asking questions on procurement and being active in the Public Accounts Committee,” he stressed, while indicating that he intends to lay more questions before the House.
On December 17, 2015, Edghill claimed in an address to the House that the salary increases quietly announced for government ministers would cost an additional $1 billion over five years. This was objected to during the same debate by the government side, which said the annualised increases would be about $67.8 million per year or $339 million over five years.
The decision to have Edghill appear before the committee was made on May 5, 2016 after APNU+AFC MP Charrandas Persaud brought a motion asking that Edghill withdraw the statement and apologise. After he failed to do so, Persaud said the matter should be taken to the Privileges Committee, since the statement and his subsequent refusal to apologise for it or withdraw it violated the privileges of the National Assembly and “brought the entire National Assembly into disrepute.”
Edghill has since vehemently denied that he had any intention to mislead the House or deliberately misinform and defended his statement as a “fair comment.” Appearing before the committee in November, 2016, he presented documentation which asserted that salary increases in all of the categories in Order Number 16 of 2015 would total $964.4 million over the five-year period and with the inclusion of the salary for Minister in the Ministry of Communities, Valerie Patterson, the figure would rise to $1.001 billion.