“The Public Accounts Committee (of the House of Representatives) has the duty of examining, considering and reporting on the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by the National Assembly to meet the public expenditure of the country; such other accounts as may be referred to the Committee by the House or under any Law; and the report of the Auditor General on any such accounts”.
Taken from the Government of Belize website:www.nationalassembly.gov.bz .> committees.
All Standing Committees are creatures of the House, and report to the House. But the Public Accounts Committee is special. It is the only Standing Committee whose Chairman is chosen from the ranks of the Opposition members of the House.
Through the Public Accounts Committee, the Opposition has a front row seat on the financial activity of the government, and is able to keep tabs on how revenue money is being used.
That is its central role. It is, in essence, a watchdog committee, and in this committee the Opposition has a central role to play.
Outside of the Public Accounts Committee, the Opposition has no way of influencing how the government uses the money entrusted its consolidated revenue.
When in 2013, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the Hon. Julius Espat walked away as Chairman, he let go of an important oversight tool, a tool which other parliamentary democracies in the Commonwealth value highly, for keeping tabs on government spending.
The Opposition in the House has not sought to fill this gap. It has made no move to name another of its members to become PAC Chairman.
One would expect the Opposition to use all the legislative and constitutional means at its disposal to do its job of supervising government spending. But several months have gone by and the Opposition has not claimed its right to sit as Chairman of the PAC.
It appears to us that this is an essential first step on the road to progress. Even if the Government Bench were to glare and growl, this Chairmanship remains a right belonging to the Opposition Bench. It cannot be denied because it is so enshrined by decades of parliamentary practic.
Democracy becomes effective in a country when the competing parliamentary parties work the system as it was designed to function. There will be times when the going gets tough, but as one famous Opposition Leader, the late Philip S.W. Goldson, has shown, by standing alone for five years against a derisive PUP majority, persistence has its rewards.