The Public Accounts Committee is an agency set up in the House of Representatives, designed to be an oversight over Government expenditure. Presently the Committee is made up of six members, four members from the Government and two members from the Opposition. The law states that the Chairman of the Committee should be one of the members of the Opposition – that person is Representative for Cayo South the Hon. Julius Espat. The PUP Deputy Leader however, is requesting some changes in the Public Accounts Committee. His application has since been submitted and will be tabled at the next meeting of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Today, we sat down with the Hon. Espat where he dished on his recommendations. But first, he elaborated more on the fundamental role of the Public Accounts Committee.
Hon. Julius Espat:
The Public Accounts Committee is a committee formed in the House of Parliament, and it is designed to be an oversight committee. The committee is not there to set policy. That is the job of the Executive and Cabinet. Our supposed job is to make sure that any monies that are spent, the people’s money, or any money that is budgeted, that we have a right to find out if it was properly spent, if it was efficiently spent, or if it was spent at all. This is done through various means. One of our partners is supposed to be the Auditor General. Whereas the Auditor General does her report and raises concern, which she has done already in her 2010 report. There should be a working relationship between the PAC and the Auditor General, so that whatever concerns she has she brings it to us, and therefore we interview or subpoena any person, any witness, to be able to answer to the people of Belize. This has never been done in Belize, meaning we have a Public Accounts Committee that has been dormant since Independence. Why? Well, the Belizean people ought to ask that question. But the role of the Public Accounts Committee is to make sure that there is proper accountability and transparency of the people’s money.
The primary problem, says Mr Espat, lies within the present structure of that Committee. And what he is requesting is a complete reform of the structure.
Hon. Julius Espat:
The present structure of the Public Accounts Committee is a political structure. That’s where the problem starts. It is set up having four members of Government on the committee, and those four members most of the time are Ministers. Ministers sit in Cabinet and they have a collective agreement and therefore they cannot do anything to check themselves. So that’s where you start off with the problem. Then you have two members of the opposition, so that makes it a committee of six. The Chairman of the Committee is a representative of the Opposition.
We want to create a Committee that is made up of seven members, a bi-cameral Committee, made up of Members of the House of Representatives and Members of the Senate, and take away the politics of it once and for all. Take it away from political hands. Two members from the Government, because it’s a Parliamentary Committee, so you have to have representation at that level. Two Members from Government, non-Ministers. Two Members of the Opposition, and Chaired by the Opposition, that gives you four. Then give the social partners their participation, three Members from the Senate, one from the Church, one from the Union, and one from the Business Community.
Julius Espat says that the intent of his appeal is to bring forth absolute transparency and accountability of the people’s monies and that includes grants from other institutions. But how simple will it be to restructure the Public Accounts Committee? We asked Mr Espat.
Hon. Julius Espat:
There are so many ways of having it not work, because you are in power. But if you want it to be done, and if you believe it is the right thing, it is one thing, a decisive vote in the House, it’s done immediately, a petition is done in the Senate, they’re doing it immediately, it’s over with. The people of Belize get accountability. If they don’t do it, it is because they do not want to be accountable to the people of Belize. That is the fact. Both Governments, both UDP and PUP, have to agree on this one, because it’s not about them and it’s not about politics. It is about true transparency and accountability.
That’s what we’re doing and I’m not doing this alone. This is being done with the blessing of the National Executive of the People’s United Party. It is being done on behalf of the people of Belize.
Again, on Wednesday of next week, his proposal will be presented to the House of Representatives.