KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica’s People’s National Party Members of Parliament Phillip Paulwell and Kern Spencer, who resigned as shadow spokespersons for the Opposition, were Tuesday absent from Parliament for the first time since taking the oath of office on September 27.
Lisa Hanna, information spokesperson for the PNP, said she had no idea why the men were absent.
Mr. Paulwell had told The Gleaner/Power106 News Centre earlier Tuesday that he was unable to comment on his resignation at the time as he was preparing for Parliament.
While they were not the only MPs absent from the House of Representatives, its significance seemingly coincides with the deepening Cuban light-bulb saga, the latest controversy to have rocked the PNP.
So obvious were the men’s absence that Jamaica Labour Party member, James Robertson, pointed to empty seats where the men usually sit and then formed his hands as if he was rocking a baby. Cartoonists regularly depict both Paulwell and Spencer as babies, dressed in diapers, complete with pacifier.
Ms Hanna said the PNP was now in consultation with a view to finding replacements for the two shadow ministers.
Mr. Paulwell, a problem-plagued minster in past PNP administrations since 2000, was the opposition spokesperson on Mining and Energy. He was the Minister of Industry, Technology and Commerce, the ministry which had responsibility for the light bulb project.
Mr. Spencer, a first-time Member of Parliament, was the State Minister in the ministry and he had direct responsibility for the project. He was junior spokesman to Peter Bunting, who has responsibility for Industry and Commerce.
Gleaner sources say that the two were being encouraged to resign their shadow portfolios since Energy Minister Clive Mullings made a damming revelation surrounding the bulb issue to Parliament three weeks ago.
The police Fraud Squad, the Contractor General, the Auditor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions have been called on to investigate the circumstances under which the last PNP government accrued a bill of more than $276.5 millions dollars in the distribution of free Cuban light bulbs.
Mr. Spencer wept in Parliament last week Tuesday when Mr. Mullings revealed that the Fraud Squad had been called in to investigate the matter.
A PNP review committee said that guidelines were breached in the awarding of contracts under the programme.
Ms. Hanna told The Gleaner that the men have resigned pending the investigations.
“What they had cited was that they do not want to compromise the party on speaking issues and they also believe that until the investigation is complete that they do not want to speak on any issue that might interfere with the investigations at the moment,” Ms. Hannah told The Gleaner.
Mr. Paulwell and Mr. Spencer were absent from the PNP’s parliamentary group meeting on Monday night, where it is believed that the final decision for the men to resign was made.
Timeline for light-bulb saga
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Clive Mullings, Minister of Mining, Energy and Telecommunications, announced that the Contractor General and the Auditor General had been asked to investigate the circumstances under which the last PNP government accrued a bill of more than $276.5 million in the distribution of free Cuban light bulbs.
Thursday, October 25
Cuban Ambassador Gisela García indicated that she was very concerned about the controversy surrounding the ‘Jamaica-Cuba Energy-Saving Project’.
Saturday, October 27
Political commentators opined that the controversial energy-saving initiative could adversely affect the PNP’s chances of winning the local government election, which is due in December.
Sunday, October 28
Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller gives former Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell and his deputy, Kern Spencer, two weeks to present a report to her on the handling of the project.
Tuesday, November 6
Kern Spencer, former Minister of State in the Energy Ministry, who had direct responsibility for the project, wept in Parliament. Mr. Spencer broke down during Minister Mullings’ presentation to Parliament where he announced that the Fraud Squad had also been summoned to join the probe.
Opposition Leader receives report from Messrs. Paulwell and Spencer. Upon receiving the report, Mrs. Simpson Miller appoints a six-member committee of senior and junior party functionaries to examine the report.
Sunday, November 11
Donald Buchanan, the PNP’s general secretary, announced that the party’s review committee had found no evidence of fraud in the light-bulb project. However, he admitted that the team concluded that there had been breaches of procedure in the handling of the energy-saving initiative.
Tuesday, November 13
Paulwell and Spencer resign from the Opposition’s team of spokespersons. Paulwell was the Spokesperson on Industry and Commerce and Spencer was his deputy.