By Kiana Wilburg
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is at its wits’ end as there seems to be no immediate solution to some of the chronic factors affecting the execution of its work. Some committee members, along with Chairman, Carl Greenidge, have expressed that the committee could be much more fruitful, if only some factors were eliminated.
Greenidge believes that primary among them is the inability or rather the unwillingness of the House to sanction ministers for failing to comply with the Committee’s recommendations and that of the Auditor General (AG) when it comes to abuses of the Consolidated and Contingencies Funds.
The Committee during the perusal of its main staple, the AG’s reports on the accounts of the country, would require some senior officials from various agencies to be present during that exercise. They would answer questions, particularly on why their respective ministries have failed to comply with recommendations outlined by the Auditor General.
But committee interactions have shown that some officials are poorly prepared for certain questions. More frustrating than this is that in some cases, various ministries and agencies have failed for several years to implement the recommendations of the Committee.
Greenidge, when asked if the aforementioned observations top the list of their difficulties said “to an extent, but there are much more worrying issues.”
The PAC Chairman explained that the problems faced by the Committee can be categorized into five broad groups. The first he highlighted was the general weakness, if not failure, of the public accounting system and the weakness of the regulative scenario.
In this regard, the Parliamentarian explained that big and small accounting problems come to the PAC without any attempt of having it resolved at an administrative level, which is where they ought to be dealt with.
He said that agencies pay monies to contractors, for example, in circumstances that leave the agencies “without a legal leg to stand on” to get back the funds. The matter then ends up before the PAC by way of the Auditor General’s report. In so doing, the matters embroil the Committee in endless inquiries into the Government process.
In the end, the agencies are told to report matters to the Police and have them pursue the cases. But in many if not most cases, Greenidge said, they should be seeking to settle these matters by surcharging or prosecuting their own officers and the politicians on whose instructions they may have acted.
He added that this is especially true for accounting matters relating to the municipal regions.
On the same point of the deficiencies of the public accounting system, Greenidge pointed to the weaknesses of the AG’s office and how those have a bearing as well on how effectively the PAC is able to carry out its functions.
Greenidge said that the problems of appointing a strong AG as well as confirmation of staff are well known and documented issues. He specified that one such matter would be the appointment of the Finance Minister’s wife to the most senior technical position in the Department of Audit, even though the Minister was being criticized for his role in key agencies that have to be audited.
The second broad group he cited was the absence of supportive enforcement or oversight mechanisms as in the case of procurement, where there is no Public Procurement Commission. He reminded of the abuses in the award of contracts for the main elements of the Specialty Hospital, drugs, roads and airport contracts among others.
The absence of pressure on the Government agencies and Ministers to act on recommendations of the AG and those of the Committee was also referred to as a major obstacle.
The PAC Chairman said also on the list of worrying challenges, is the involvement of the Government in some of the biggest abuses which encompasses its failure to report on the use of state funds in some areas.
Lastly, he mentioned the lack of independent decision-making by entities appointed by the Executive branch.
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