– Power lies with Parliament – Greenidge
The importance of having an effective and proactive Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is often a central topic when the Chairmen and other committee members of the PAC of the Commonwealth nations meet at its annual summit.
A Caribbean Parliamentarian had posited at one of these meetings, that the “abuse of citizens’ trust should be a high ranking crime” and as such, politicians should make every effort to change this perception by observing high levels of accountability.
Head of Guyana’s PAC, Carl Greenidge said that he is in full support of this principle but whether the local Parliament exercises its ability to censure politicians, thereby giving effect to notion, is another question.
Greenidge said that for the principle to actually be given support, mechanisms for ensuring democracy and transparency must be devised, implemented and its accompanying policies in this regard, adhered to.
He said, “I have no difficulty with the principle but I would even want to include in that statement another factor. Within the ministries, public officers are also elected to carry out important functions. When they facilitate or allow systems to be abused, they too must be held accountable and be made to understand that they are abusing the trust of the citizens. So this principle cannot only apply to the Ministers but also to those public servants who are elected to act alongside the politicians. They too are given positions where they make decisions that can affect the lives of the citizens.”
The PAC Chairman said that it is important as well for there to be a clear understanding as to what constitutes a breach of the citizens’ trust.
He explained that if one takes a look at the Auditor General’s reports, it is obvious that there are many financial infringements. He said that it reflects how the citizens’ trust is abused by public servants and in some cases, by Ministers too.
But Greenidge said that the PAC does not have disciplinary powers. It can recommend to the House that sanctions be made. Further, it cannot summon a Minister to answer for certain abuses that may be highlighted in the AG’s reports.
“I agree that the abuse of citizens’ trust should be a high ranking crime but at the end of it all, we must give effect to such a principle by acting. The power to do this lies with the National Assembly,” the Parliamentarian asserted.
Be that as it may, there have been accusations that the Parliament has become a rubber stamp.
The late Dr. Cheddi Jagan had warned against the erosion of the Parliament’s power.
Today, many politicians and activists believe that the “Jagan vision” seems to be fading due to Government’s “blatant disregard for the role of the Parliament and its committees at that.”
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman in a previous interview with this publication had expressed that over the years, he has noticed the erosion of respect for the word of the National Assembly.
The House Speaker had said that “Government ignores what it wants and obeys what it wants. Both Government and the Opposition have a responsibility to respect the Parliament. If not, then the House will be seen as a rubber stamp and its laws not treated with respect.”
Just recently, Trotman referred the Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh to the Privileges Committee over a motion moved by Carl Greenidge that the Minister had spent over $4B from the Consolidated Funds without the approval of the National Assembly.
In another interview, Greenidge had said that the reaction of the Government to findings regarding the arrangements for procurement of drugs for example, still needs much attention.
More significantly, Greenidge said that the PAC could most certainly be boosted by the establishment of a Budget Office. This is an innovation pioneered in the USA and taken up by a number of other countries including, most recently the United Kingdom, the PAC Chairman explained.
He said that the Budget Office would be of great assistance because appropriate accounting and economic skills could be mustered to prepare analysis and reports that would inform and aid the PAC.
Greenidge added that Guyana needs such an innovation, especially because the Committee members are part-time, from such varied backgrounds and sometimes are unaware even of the administrative procedures.
Further, the politician had explained that the 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 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.
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