The latest report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has come in for questioning as local critics believe that it could be a product of haste, lack of comprehensiveness, or both.
This observation was recently made by Chartered Accountant and former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran.
He noted in his recent writings that following the May 2015 national elections, the membership of the PAC changed. By convention, the chairmanship is now held by an Opposition Member of Parliament, former Housing and Tourism Minister, Irfaan Ali.
Goolsarran reminded that on March 15, 2018, the PAC presented its report to the National Assembly on the results of its examination of the public accounts for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Chartered Accountant noted however that the examination took place over an eight-month period from November 2015 to June 2016 and involved only 12 hearings, an average four sittings per fiscal year.
In contrast, Goolsarran pointed out that the PAC’s examination of the public accounts for 2010 and 2011 took place over a 27-month from March 2012 to June 2014 at which 50 hearings were held, an average of 25 hearings per fiscal year.
The former Auditor General said that while one might applaud the current PAC for its attempts to bring the examination of the public accounts up-to-date, “we hope that its examination of the 2012-2014 public accounts did not lack the desired level of comprehensiveness, considering that the Chairman was a key Cabinet Minister of the previous Administration, and the accounts that were examined relate to the stewardship and accountability responsibilities of that Administration.”
The Chartered Accountant noted that the presentation of the PAC report to the National Assembly is the penultimate stage in the public accountability cycle.
That cycle begins with the presentation of the Estimates not later than three months into the fiscal year in question, followed by the execution of the budget; mid-year reporting within 60 days of the end of the mid-year; annual financial reporting within four months of the close of the fiscal year; external review by the Audit Office and reporting to the Legislature within five months of the receipt of the draft financial statements; examination by the PAC and reporting back to the Legislature; and the tabling of the Treasury Memorandum in the Assembly setting out what actions the Government has taken or intends to take in relation to the findings and recommendations of the PAC.
Goolsarran said that while there is no time limit for the PAC examination and reporting back to the Assembly, the Treasury Memorandum is due for presentation to the Assembly within 90 days of the tabling of the PAC report, in accordance with Standing Order 82(3) of the Assembly.
The Chartered Accountant said it is necessary for the public accountability cycle to be completed within one year of the close of the fiscal year to enable the Government to properly discharge its stewardship and accountability responsibilities.
He said that it will also enable legislators to use the results as an important reference point in their consideration of the national budget for the following year. Goolsarran said that in the private sector, that cycle is usually completed well within six months of the close of the financial year culminating with the convening of the annual general meeting of shareholders.
The Chartered Accountant said that timeliness is of the essence, and experience has shown that, in many instances, accountability delayed invariably leads to accountability denied.
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