By Shadel Young
A break down within the public sector system was the hot topic at Wednesday’s Public Accounts Committee Meeting.
The PAC held its second of a series of public hearings inside the chambers of the National Assembly.
For the second time, the PUP representatives – PAC Chair the Hon. Julius Espat and the Hon. Rodwell Ferguson were not in attendance and as a result member the Hon. John Saldivar was elected as Pro Tem Chair; he was joined by the Hon. Patrick Faber and the Hon. Michael Finnegan.
The Committee commenced its appraisal of the Auditor General Report for 2008/2009, which sounded the alarm on a failure in reporting and record keeping of financial statements across the public sector.
Saldivar characterized it as “system breakdowns in how the records of how public accounts are kept.” The former Auditor General Edmund Zuniga, who was called as a witness, testified that during his tenure in office, there was a lapse in communication between his office and the office of the Accountant General – who is tasked with providing financial statements for auditing.
He further stated that he observed numerous inconsistencies between statements from the Accountant General and the information gathering system – inconsistencies which he brought to the attention of the then Accountant General, who he claims seldom provided further clarification.
These discrepancies were also faulted on a lack of communication and accountability on the part persons within Government ministries. The alarming revelation is one that members of the PAC affirm must be looked at closely.
Another matter raised by member the Hon. Patrick Faber is the role and responsibility of the Auditor General’s Office to make certain that record keeping is ran efficiently. Faber stated that the Auditor General must not merely sit around and wait for information, but ought to play a more practical role as he has the authority to call upon any ministry personnel during the auditing process.
The second point of contention at the PAC meeting was the absence of the PUP representatives.
The People’s United Party has been calling for a restructuring of the committee and has subsequently objected to the revised agenda of the hearings. The PUP suggested that the committee review only the 2010/2011 audit reports; however, the UDP, who has majority representation in the committee, voted for the examination of not only the current reports, but those that were tabled during the time the opposition was in office.
Since then, the PUP has boycotted the gatherings, referring to it as an illegitimate hearing.
However, yesterday, Saldivar maintained that the Standing Orders provide for the current proceedings; he continues: “It is not an illegal meeting and even if it were, it certainly is turning out to be a most useful process, which the opposition ought to join.”
The PAC’s rightful Chairman, the Hon. Julius Espat, is presently out of the country, but continues to verbalize his discontent with the PAC, stating, “The government is trying to distract the people from looking at the real issues.
“If we do not address the present issues affecting us as a nation, then we are failing our people.
“If the Prime Minister wants to study history, he has a right to do so through a vehicle called the Special Select Committee.
“The PAC has been hijacked and this is a violation of the Standing Orders.”
At this week’s meetings, present were representation from the social bodies of the Senate – the Church, the Union, and the Business Community.
The former and present Auditor Generals and Accountant Generals were also present, along with other Ministry personnel. The Public Accounts Committee will reconvene on Monday October 28th.