EDITORIAL: Hearings of PAC will open eyes
One of the better aspects of a parliamentary democracy is the monitoring of public finance, and the control thereof by the people’s elected representatives. If properly explained, any interested voter would fully respect the role that money has played in ushering in common representation so many centuries ago, and led to our parliamentary democracy.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is therefore an important tool in the armoury of Parliament since it is a body normally composed in the main of persons from the ranks of the Opposition, with the Leader of the Opposition as chairman. In an adversarial political system, a PAC may therefore keep a government on its toes.
So in essence the PAC is doing nothing new, except perhaps that the proceedings do not always attract public attention because publicity, which is the oxygen that fuels transparency, has been missing.
But last week’s sitting was different and it will cause a difference of some significance, because although we do not have American-type Senate committee confirmation hearings, the ongoing publicity will bring the public into more intimate involvement with what is going on in their governance.
The disclosure of events at the National Housing Corporation (NHC) is not comfortable reading. Politics is not a game of human perfection, nor is every democratic ideal always observed during the run-up to an election – even though it should be – and so the disclosures will cause all citizens to sit up and ask questions about what is going on.
Ministers of the Crown have enormous power and they can direct and make decisions about the way in which millions of dollars are spent. Our constitutional system makes provisions for accountability of those funds. We expect ministers to make sensible decisions and to care and guard the public finances as if they were guarding their own enterprises.
The exigencies of public administration may sometimes mean that some hard decisions may have to be made in circumstances of emergency but, given our parliamentary system, the transfer of $2.465 million per month to the NHC from the Ministry of Finance for the last 18 months will raise eyebrows because, in the absence of parliamentary approval and without a listing for a subvention of this kind under the Estimates, the status of these transactions may be a matter of undesirable conjecture.
We note that further questioning will be continued on June 17, when other public officers may be examined, and while we anticipate that the questioning will necessarily take on a political flavour, it is designed to do so because the public interest is guaranteed when the party in Opposition can form a quorum from its membership and get on with the people’s business of examining the Auditor General’s Report and asking for explanations from the Government of the day.
We hope that live streaming of the PAC’s work continues so that members of the public may see and hear their democracy in action.
In this way, they can understand the value or otherwise of decisions taken on their behalf, as ultimate owners of this country’s democracy.
We may have turned an old chapter in a new book.