Whatever the procedure, PAC should be public
THE RECENT CONTROVERSY concerning the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the procedure to be followed is an important debate that should stir discussion among members of the public even before the Lower House begins to review how the committee may conduct some aspects of its business.
The reasons are obvious but may need to be restated for public benefit. Public money raised to be spent for the good of the island must be accounted for, and so the Auditor General carries out an audit of Government departments in much the same way that an auditor of public companies might, and the report known as the Auditor General Report is laid before the House and then made public.
Miss Mottley as Leader of the Opposition holds the position of chairman of the PAC, simply because the rules and laws pertaining to the PAC mandate that committee to deal with questions raised in the report concerning the whereabouts of money voted for the public good by Parliament, and make the Opposition Leader its chairman!
If the money has been properly spent and accounted for in keeping with Parliament’s directions, then there is no problem. But the PAC is one of the most potent checks and balances in our entire political system, because as the Leader of the Opposition is chairperson of that committee the public can feel reasonably sure that any infelicities in the spending and dispersal of the money voted will see the light of day.
It must therefore be of major public interest that these proceedings be broadcast to “John Public”. If we are to honour the letter and spirit of our democracy in which the masses are said to be beneficiaries, then members of the public ought to be entitled to attend in person and also to hear and watch the proceedings via the electronic media.
In the nature of things, the PAC is always scrutinizing past spending but wide discussion following the streaming of the first meeting of the current round of meetings demonstrates the powerful impact of allowing the public to know about matters of interest to them!
Accounting officers are responsible for the due dispatch of public business in accordance with the wishes of Parliament. As such they must expect that the proper discharge of the duty resting on members of the PAC may mean that it is necessary for an accounting officer to appear before the committee to account for the disposal and spending of public money.
The principle of such appearances cannot, we think, be seriously questioned – even if one concedes, in the interest of absolute fair play, that their rights be carefully considered when they are summoned to give evidence in public!
We are not proposing at this stage to go further into details, but it is sufficient if we now urge that, whatever considerations are given to the procedural aspects of the hearings by the Parliament, there is a strong case for the continuation of public hearings of this most important committee, which meets to discuss the report of a very important constitutional figure whose job description and whose work are both designed to safeguard and protect the public interest in the spending of public money. The PAC’s public hearings should continue!