First Public Hearing of the PAC held in Belmopan

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-09h36m57s79The first public hearing of the Public Accounts Committee was held on Monday in the Chambers of the National Assembly. The meeting was conducted in two parts, a morning and afternoon session and saw the absence of a few members, as well as the present of some new faces. The PUP representatives – PAC Chairman the Hon. Julius Espat and member the Hon. Rodwell Ferguson who have opposed the structure and agenda of the committee, were noticeably not in attendance. Also absent was Minister the Hon. Edmund Castro, whose name has been thrown into recent scandal over the past few days. However, present were members from the special bodies of the Senate – that is the Church, the Unions and the Business Community – they were brought in as observers. Meanwhile, summoned to today’s proceedings were the past and present Auditor Generals, as well as CEOs and other Ministry personnel. As scheduled out in the PAC revised agenda, the committee started their assessment of the Auditor General’s Report on the Financial Statements for the years 2003/2004 and 2004/2005. And so in the absence of the Chair, the Hon. John Saldivar was elected pro-tem Chair and the committee proceeded with the day’s agenda. The first witness to be cross examined was the Auditor General who served during 2003/2004 – Edmund Zuniga.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-09h37m31s126Hon. John Salvidar – PAC Pro Tem Chairman:

It’s been very insightful. I believe that the information gathered from the former Auditor General is already pointing us into a direction in terms of how governments’ finances have been kept in the past and perhaps continue to be kept. We are looking to see what the deficiencies are and how we can improve the system.

Mike Rudon, reporter:
What would be the glaring thing that’s come out of this morning?

Hon. John Saldivar
As you saw in the wrap-up just now the former Auditor General declared quite clearly that he, in his opinion, was not able to give an adequate opinion on the financial statements for 2003-2004 simply because most of the material statements that should have provided to him by the Accountant General were not provided.

As John Saldivar mentioned, the common theme was that the Auditor General had not been receiving the relevant correspondents in order for him to produce a meaningful report. Here is the interaction during the meeting.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-09h46m14s217Edmund Zuniga – Former Auditor General:

Certainly, we included all the key findings in this particular report that is being looked at today.  The other aspects that you mentioned, for instance responses, in most cases the office of the Auditor General will receive no responses that we could include in the report.  In the case of the standards and scope, we just omitted those, unfortunately. 

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-10h42m54s220Hon. John Saldivar:

In item e, on the list of items to be provided, which you have listed in your report, a statement of losses, including abandoned claims of public monies, stamps, securities, stores, or other properties of Government written of during the financial year, is required.  This statement was not included in your report. 

Edmund Zuniga:

That’s correct, because from what I can see here, that statement was not submitted by the Accountant General’s Office for audit. 

Hon. John Saldivar:

Not submitted by the Accountant General. Should you have then indicated the omission of that report?

Edmund Zuniga:

Yes.  Actually there is one short sentence on it, at the bottom of page 55, which says, “This statement was not submitted for audit.” 

Hon. John Saldivar:

When you say “We did not receive” you’re referring to the Office of the Accountant General?

Edmund Zuniga:

That’s correct.

Hon. John Saldivar:

Who should in turn receive those from the ministries?

Edmund Zuniga:

Well, the Accountant Generals Office produces its statements, and I guess they rely on whatever reports they get from the treasury itself, as well as ministries and so forth.

Hon. John Saldivar:

Do you think that your report would have had more meaning if it included explanations provided to your office  as to why, for instance, there was a fifty-five million dollar shortfall in revenue?  Do you think that should have been commented on in your report? 

Edmund Zuniga:

I don’t think so, because we audit has no determination of government’s estimate of revenue and whether or not they collect that revenue. I can recall later on in one of my reports that I made a point where revenues seems to have fallen short of the budget.

As we mentioned, the Chairman the Hon. Julius Espat and his colleague the Hon. Rodwell Ferguson were not present at the meeting. During the meeting however, Mr Saldivar made a public proposition to the Chairman and commented further on his absence afterward.

Hon. John Saldivar:

(Comments made during meeting) As a compromise and since it is clear that the substantive chair will feel uncomfortable presiding over a meeting that is considering his party’s administration. I proposed that he return to the chair for those meetings where the UDP record will be scrutinized and that he asks the committee to select a chair from the government side when the record of his party’s administration will be considered. I await his response to this proposal which hopefully will be in the affirmative by the meeting on Wednesday so that he can assume the chair.

(Comments made after meeting) I really sincerely want the Chairman and the other Opposition member to participate in these proceedings.  As I stated in the meeting just now, this is the first that a Public Accounts Committee has met to discuss the Auditor General’s reports.  I think it’s very important.  It is the beginning of the functioning of the Public Accounts Committee, and it’s lamentable that the Chairman and his colleague have chosen not to attend.

So would the Chairman find favour with this offer? And did he really boycott Monday’s gathering? Well we tried to contact Espat on Monday, but it turns out he is presently out of the country. With no word of when he will be returning, we’ll just have to wait and see what the next meeting of the PAC, scheduled for this Wednesday, will bring.

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