The Public Accounts Committee – an agency that has been lying dormant for decades, but, have in the recent months, been dominating headlines. The Chairman of that committee, the Hon. Julius Espat, set fire to a countrywide dialogue that eventually led to the re-activation of the PAC. The Chair had a list of proposed changes to the committee, the most principal – a restructuring exercise that would deduct the majority representation of the Barrow administration. That didn’t sit well with the Government, who contested the proposal, even when it made its way to the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the meetings, which were made public, got underway. Instigated by the Chair’s proposal, the social partners of the Senate, to mention, the Unions, Churches and the Business Community were invited to sit in on the hearings as observers. It didn’t take long however, for the social partners to request a more meaningful participation. Government heard their appeal and presented them with a new bid that would provide them with more inclusion. Last week, the NTUCB and the Chamber of Commerce responded jointly, to that suggestion, supporting most of their recommendations, but drafting a counterproposal, requesting a nine member committee, with 4 from the Government, two from the Opposition and all three Social Partners. Yesterday, when we spoke with the pro-tem Chair, the Hon. John Saldivar, he affirmed that while the composition is up for amendment, their greater representation isn’t. And it is for this reason that Espat and fellow member the Hon. Rodwell Ferguson have boycotted the public hearings, following the first meeting. However, with the Government willing to compromise, we wondered if the Opposition’s representatives would return to the hearings and so we caught up with the Chair this afternoon and asked – what would it take for them participate. Here’s what he had to say.
Hon. Julius Espat- Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee
“Once the composition is done, that oversight is what is the main point of concern…the main essence of doing it, then we will join them, meaning, if this counterproposal that the social partners made, is accepted by Government, then we will therefore reengage. We will not reengage if Government continues to play games with what is existing right now. By the way, if the Opposition does not engage, therefore, there is no credibility to what they are doing. That’s why they are scrambling”.
But with no indication that Government will yield, we asked Mr. Espat, why not just reclaim chairmanship and play a part in the analysis.
Reporter: “You have lobbied for so long for this committee to become activated. Should the Government not yield to the proposed composition, why not just return to the meetings, take over again as the chairman of the committee and participate in these meetings?”
Hon. Julius Espat: “Because participating does not mean that you are doing something positive. You can participate in something that the ultimate goal is to find a solution to problems, and that is good, but you can also participate in criminal activities and you can also participate in any event that does no good for the country and that does not make any sense. We can inspect the information and we can do our own criticism or analysis of the system. We don’t have to sit on the chair for that to be done. We want you to do it the proper way so that it is done through the system, but if the system does not allow you or want you to do what is needed, then, there are other ways of doing it”.
Mr. Espat maintains that with the absence of the Opposition, the committee is functioning against the law. He suggests that instead of playing politics, both sides ought to consider the fundamental purpose of the PAC.
Hon. Julius Espat: “Our concern is that we need to establish once and for all what is the role of the Public Accounts Committee, what is their mandate, and we need to stop politicizing it. It has to be there to do what it is designed to do, because if not, you are creating chaos. The counterproposal made by the social partners is acceptable by us even though it is not the one that we initially proposed, but the spirit is the same. The majority is to come down to a critical decision, can overrule Government’s position; that is what we want…because it is not the UDP that we are overruling. It will be any government or any party that is in power”.
Another role of the PAC that the Opposition initially objected to was Government’s agenda to review the Auditor General’s reports of not only the current administration, but also when the PUP was in office. Today Espat said, let us audit both administrations.
Hon. Julius Espat: “I think it’s healthy that we’ve analyzed from 1981. Remember we are only 32 years old, so it is healthy to analyze how we have done things both PUP and UDP, so that we can find a way not to happen again, and so that we can better the things that was done in the past. We just have to make sure that we can use the correct vehicle”.
Hon. Julius Espat: “I’m always optimistic. It is difficult to make change, to do things differently than we have been doing it politically for the last 32 years. Change and reform is necessary. We can’t just talk it, release it and we have to want it and we have to fight for it. That is the only frame of mind that we might have to make sure that things are done better in this country”.