No impartiality where needed
This past Monday, the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly began examining the relationship between the Ministry of Health and the new Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation. For more than a decade the government has been paying the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation billions of dollars each year for the supply of drugs, to the exclusion of many other agencies with the potential to supply the drugs.
There are many questions, some representing the continuation of comments by the Auditor General. Indeed, there have been questions about the relationship between the government and the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation. There have even been questions about the pricing to the extent that there have been accusations of price gouging.
However, since that issue is now before the Public Accounts Committee the revelations or explanations should be forthcoming and there would be extensive media reports. What is of more interest at this is the partisan nature of the Public Accounts Committee. This body exists in every parliament. It is expected to monitor government expenditure of money released by the very parliament.
Indeed, there is the report by the Auditor General which highlights discrepancies in the various accounting practices in Government Ministries and departments. These discrepancies are more often than not, noted and corrected or at least attempts are made to correct them. But sometimes they are ignored and repeated the following year. This has been the case with the relationship between the government and the New GPC. When that happens, the Public Accounts Committee would become involved.
This committee has the authority to demand legal action if it suspects that the irregularities were deliberate. In those countries where the politics is not as partisan as Guyana’s professionals examine the accounts, question the decision-makers and move to seek corrections in every case.
The composition of the body is often such that not one of the members appears to have a political interest. And even if they do, they behave in a purely professional manner. The members more often than not, are people selected by the parliament, sometimes from civil society, to review the public accounts. In this manner the public can be assured that their interests are best served.
This is certainly not the case in Guyana. On Monday the committee behaved as though it was a matter of partisan political interest. The committee was divided between the government side and the opposition. The result was that there were arguments to the point that things became acrimonious when a member of the committee kept asking specific questions.
One would have believed that in the interest of justice and fair play the other members of the committee would have accepted the right of a member to seek edification. When he was finished other members would have had their chance to ask more questions or to seek clarifications.
This situation of a divided Public Accounts Committee is most untenable. For one, the wider society could never believe that their interests are being served. Already some believe that there are moves to cover up aspects of the report by the Auditor General and certain aspects of the operation of the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital.
For example, there is the claim that the new GPC enjoyed a special waiver by Cabinet in 2009 but the records would show that even before then the Auditor General was contending that this should not be the case, that every tender over a certain amount should go to the National Procurement and Tender Administration.
The Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, had also stated that there was no longer a special waiver for such drug purchases. Certainly something was horribly wrong. And one cannot accuse the then Health Minister of lying.
The bottom line now is whether the Public Accounts would serve any meaningful purpose being as politically divided as it is. Surely, the appearance is that the members appear to be protecting political interests rather than national interests and this certainly does augur well for the nation.