PUP criticizes PM and Cabinet for their stance on proposed PAC reform

Logo_PUPThe long-dormant Public Accounts Committee has been thrust under the microscope by Chairman and PUP Deputy Leader the Hon. Julius Espat. Espat called for a restructuring of the committee, which presently is comprised of four representatives from the UDP and two from the Opposition. The proposed reform would allow two per party and three from the social stakeholders in the Senate – the church, the union and the business community. But when that motion was presented by Espat at the last meeting of the House of Representatives, it was opposed by the PM and promptly dismissed by Speaker of the House on a procedural error. And now even after support from the Chamber of Commerce and the NTUCB for the proposed amendment, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Belize maintain that a restructuring is not achievable. A press release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister today states that “Cabinet considered the call of both bodies (the Chambers of Commerce and the NTUCB) for the PAC to be converted into a Special Joint Select Committee of the House and Senate… Cabinet remains convinced, however, that such a proposal is fundamentally inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the Standing Orders of the House. And the radical and serial amendments of the Standing Orders that would be required for the transformation of the current PAC into the creature envisaged by the BCCI and NTUCB, would render the proceedings of the new Committee both expensive and impractical and greatly ratchet up the costs associated with Committee hearings. Cabinet cannot, therefore, agree with such a proposal.” In fact, Cabinet believes that the Committee as it stands is “a perfectly workable and efficient formula for conducting the business assigned to the Committee.” According to the release, the Standing Orders afford any two members to requisition and convene a meeting of the PAC. But for now, the Government’s side of the committee is requesting that the Chairman, the Hon. Julius Espat, call an urgent meeting of the PAC to agree to a schedule for consideration of all the outstanding Auditor General reports. Such a schedule should see the work divided into two: examination of pre-2008 reports; and examination of post-2008 reports. The hearings will, in any case, be held in public. The PUP this evening fired back with a press release criticizing the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s stance. We spoke via telephone with the Hon. Espat, who says that he was taken aback by the immediate refusal of the proposal.

Hon Julius Espat – Chairman PAC:

vlcsnap-2013-08-22-12h16m45s251I expected a reaction.  I didn’t expect this. This is really surprising in a negative way.  I am not on a political witch hunt.  So this is not about PUP and UDP.  This is not because I want PUP to have an advantage right now.  That’s not the request.  The request is to have true oversight, objective oversight.  The Belizean people are now understanding the issues.  If not you would not have the Chamber of Commerce and the National Trade Union Congress supporting it.  They are not organizations that support things because they got up one day and they feel that they need to do something like that.  This is done after analysis.  The PAC has not worked from 1981, under PUP, under UDP.  It has not worked. Therefore why are we banging our heads on the wall, when you’re dealing with something that has never worked, is not working, and will never work in its present composition.

We further queried Julius Espat on his understanding of the Government’s reasoning that a reorganization would not comply with the Standing Orders and that even doing so would be costly.

Hon Julius Espat – Chairman PAC:

You can have a select committee once the House agrees, and you can give it any function that you want it to.  The function can be to do something on a permanent basis.  Remember, we have laws that we inherited from the United Kingdom that applies to them, not necessarily to us.  Now we are 32 years old and we’re finding out that these standing orders or certain laws or certain constitution that we have is not applicable to our culture and our environment.  So, it is our responsibility to look at proposals to do changes that betters the life of our Belizean people.  I don’t get a salary to be chairman of PAC. The Chamber of Commerce is not asking for a salary to be a member of PAC.  The NTUCB is not asking for a salary to be on the Committee. Nobody is asking for a stipend.  If you are saying that we don’t have money to have a meeting, or a couple of meetings. If the PAC would work, then you would be saving millions and millions of dollars, because of the establishment of efficiency.

Government seems to have thrown the ball on Mr Espat’s side of the court, calling for him to convene an urgent meeting of the PAC and Julius Espat says that’s exactly what he will do.

Hon Julius Espat – Chairman PAC:

So I’ll do it again.  I’ll continue calling.  Yes, I agree with them, we need to have meetings tomorrow.  That’s the political game that they are  playing, and they won’t put us in that.  We will call meetings.  I will continue to do my job.  I have always been doing my job.  The problem is since 1981 till 2012, nobody has done their job as the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

The Chairman says that while this is his first attempt at recommending a change to the committee, it certainly isn’t his last.

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