FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Need independent PAC
DO WE OR DO WE NOT want transparency and accountability in this country? It would seem not. The pot boils up over apparent infelicities, the stove is turned off and the pot boils down again. Should we sit idly by and let this happen?
Members of Parliament are elected to oversee our affairs, but recently, whenever there’s been an issue, we hear “don’t blame me” or “I’m not responsible”.
Now three are refusing to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to give evidence relating to serious matters raised by the Auditor General in a special audit of the National Housing Corporation.
The PAC was established by an act of Parliament in 2003 to, among other things, examine reports of the Auditor General and report to both Houses of Parliament on any matters arising. While I was in the Senate, there was even a bill introduced to establish an expanded committee so as to increase transparency and accountability.
But what’s the reality? The usual “much ado and then nothing”. In his report of 2011, the Auditor General noted that the committee hadn’t reviewed annual or special reports of the Auditor General for the past four years. How can it review when it seldom meets, and when it does, all the time is spent squabbling about procedures and whether the outcome of the meetings should be publicised? Doesn’t the act state that except in certain circumstances, the meetings should be public? Yet the debate continues.
Now there seems to be disagreement as to whether the PAC can summon ministers, although a precedent was set with the late Sir Branford Taitt when he was minister of health. I don’t care how much legal rigmarole Mr Hal Gollop brings to the public via the media, I for one, and I’m sure there are many others, want to hear from those ministers.
No one can convince me that there’ll not be continuous deliberate efforts to frustrate the operation of the PAC. The NATION Editorial of December 7 suggested an Opposition-dominated PAC, but I doubt whether Government or the Opposition really want to have an efficient PAC since as long as we continue to be an official (if not actual) democracy, both sides will have to “face the music” at some time. Maybe that’s why there was an attempt in 2014 to repeal the PAC Act.
Sometime ago, I wrote a column in which I described the Auditor General and the PAC as toothless tigers. Others describe them as watchdogs that only bark but can’t bite. We’ve certainly been proved right.
In that column I posed these questions, but if I’m not mistaken, we’re yet to receive answers.
(1) According to the 2011 Auditor General’s report, over $5 million was released by the treasury to the VAT office and not accounted for. What became of these funds? What was the outcome of the investigation?
(2) Shouldn’t we be told why the contractor responsible for remodelling 13 stalls near the Speightstown Bus Terminal was paid the full contract price when towards the end of December 2007, work had only commenced on six of them?
(3) Who was held accountable for the fact that since 2001, the Ministry of Transport and Works purchased a weigh bridge which was never installed but left to deteriorate in the elements? Since 1990 the ministry purchased three brake testers, but it took nine years before a tester was fully installed.
(4) There’s a report of fines totalling $2.5 million imposed by courts but warrants not issued to defendants, so fines remained outstanding. What has been done?
(5) According to the Auditor General, “there continues to be challenges with reconciling bank statements at the treasury. There were large unresolved differences on these statements . . . . The absence of bank reconciliations could lead to errors or fraud going undetected”. Scary, to say the least.
(6) What’s the point of having a department costing in the vicinity of $4 million per year if there’s no follow-up and no one is held accountable for irregularities discovered?
Since then we’ve had numerous serious matters raised by the Auditor General and absolutely no explanations offered.
Enough is enough. As I said years ago in the Senate, it’s time for a PAC of totally independent persons trained in the relevant fields. Failing that, give the Auditor General the necessary powers to act, not only report. But I’m not holding my breath.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email: [email protected]