By Kiana Wilburg
It appears that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has had it with the “dishonest behaviour” of some accounting officers within the system. It is recommending that such elements must be removed.
The PAC is the standing committee that exercises supervisory oversight of the functioning of the Audit Office. The Committee exercises powers in keeping with the Evidence Act, Chapter 1:08, which allows for the summoning of witnesses to give evidence and/or provide documents to it. It also has penalties for non-compliance without proper reason.
According to the Committee, the culture where certain officials believe that it is simply acceptable to engage in unbecoming financial practices must come to an end.
Over the years, the PAC said that it has examined the Auditor General’s report only to find that the same financial transgressions are being repeated year after year.
To bring an end to this behaviour, the members have since put forward a number of recommendations. These are before the National Assembly.
Among its many recommendations, the PAC is calling for the Finance Secretary to be empowered to surcharge defaulting accounting officers. It is also suggesting that Accounting officers and or engineering staff that knowingly wait until the end of December to sign off on incomplete projects, be removed from the system.
The PAC said that it is against this practice which it considers to be “dishonest and not in keeping with the nation’s financial rules and regulations.”
Additionally, the Committee said that over the years, there have been a number of challenges regarding Budget Agencies.
The Committee observed that across budget agencies, Accounting Officers and/or engineering staff appear to persistently sign off on incomplete projects. It said that Accounting Officers were found in many instances, not implementing appropriate measures to avoid the recurrence of overpayment.
Compounding the situation is the fact that Government Agencies seemed reluctant to use the performance-based gratuity (specifically the withholding of increments) of Accounting Officers as a means of promoting efficiency.
Additionally, the Committee said that the recycling of Accounting Officers who had been cited for inefficiency from one agency to another remains an irritant.
The PAC said that it has also observed that in numerous cases, Performance Bonds and Insurance were seldom utilized as surety by Ministries/Regions against shoddy and incomplete work done by contractors.
In this regard as well, it found that there is a lack of clearly defined policies as it relates to invoking the Insurance and Performance bonds at the appropriate time.
The PAC noted, too, that Log Books not being properly maintained continues to be a perennial problem across Ministries/Departments/Regions.
Furthermore, the PAC has found that the Auditor General’s Engineering Department appears overstretched, given the number of expected interventions and the increase in capital works across agencies.
The PAC said that another frustrating challenge is the fact that Accounting Officers when challenged regarding the comments in the Auditor General’s reports for signing off on incomplete projects, are in the habit of behaving as though the contractors are automatically and legally liable for rectifying the defects.
The Committee said that a significant number of issues appearing before it are as a result of failure to put in place appropriate or timely policies and/or remedies. One such example it cited, was the unclear arrangements for the writing off of losses, which keeps recurring as queries annually.
The PAC also expressed its dissatisfaction with the fact that budget agencies are taking on the average, one year (minimal), to rectify queries highlighted in the Auditor General’s Report. It stressed that in no uncertain terms, changes have to be made in this regard.
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