PUP sign declaration for reform of the PAC

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The Hon. Julius Espat’s bid to restructure the Public Accounts Committee was recently dismissed in the last Sitting of the House of Representatives and subsequently rejected by Prime Minister, the Hon. Dean Barrow, as well as the Cabinet. Mr Espat, who Chairs the committee, vowed that he would continue to challenge the Government to transform what is presently a six member committee, consisting of four Government and two opposition representatives. The proposal calls for instead a seven member committee that will see two members from each party and three from the social parties within the Senate, that is the Business Community, the Union and the Church. Why, you may ask? Well Julius Espat contests that the PAC has been dormant since its inception. So, on Tuesday, the PUP Deputy Leader once again publicly pronounced his proposal for a reform, this time, he had the undisputed support of the People’s United Party. At the steps of the National Assembly on Independence Hill, PUP Leader, the Hon. Francis Fonseca presented the party’s collective declaration for the reform of the Public Accounts Committee. Here is that declaration in part.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition:

 vlcsnap-2013-08-28-08h20m18s254We, the 14 duly elected members of the House of Representatives and the three Senators of the People’s United Party, hereby declare as follows:  We stand united and firm in our absolute condemnation and rejection of the stated objective of this UDP Prime Minister and Cabinet to undermine and erode the role and function of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives. We stand in solidarity with our Representatives on the Public Accounts Committee, the Business Community, The National Trade Union Congress of Belize, and the Belizean people, in calling for urgent, meaningful reform of the Public Accounts Committee.  We call upon this UDP Prime Minister and Cabinet, to immediately desist from continuing to engage in political games, and to demonstrate their commitment to democracy, by joining with us and the Belizean people in advancing meaningful reform of the Public Accounts Committee. The Belizean people are demanding reform and solutions to the many very serious problems and challenges facing them and our country, each and every day.  And we so do declare, and every member of the Parliamentary Caucus has signed this declaration.

I thank you for being here.

The Opposition maintains that with the rejection of a reform, the Barrow Administration is reaching into waters that is beyond its jurisdiction. Francis Fonseca says that the PAC is to act as a check and balance of the Executive and not the other way around.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition:

People must understand what took place, when they issues their release last week.  It was in effect the UDP Executive, the UDP Cabinet, sitting over there in their office, in the Cabinet Room, and saying this is what the Legislature must do.  This is what the Public Accounts Committee must do. That is absolutely disgraceful, and we should not accept that.  We should not tolerate that, and the Belizean people should not tolerate that.  The very purpose and objective of the Public Accounts Committee  is to act as a check and balance on the Executive.

We are not saying that we have all the answers, but we are saying we are prepared to work with all of these partners to find a solution, and to come up with a reform of the committee, that can garner some unanimous support.  We are prepared, even at this stage, to work with the Government on that issue.

While the presentation was rather short, the person who provoked the movement, the Hon. Julius Espat, reiterated his stance, further stating that reform begins with the people.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition:

You start here.  You start by informing the Belizean people, because reform is not something that happens overnight.  Reform is first being true to your people, showing them the evidence, and having them participate, because reform is difficult.

Julius Espat – Area Rep, Cayo South:
vlcsnap-2013-08-28-09h06m39s163This declaration is a contract that the People’s United Party is making with the people of Belize.  We are not just saying it.  We’re putting our signatures on it, black and white, because we are serious about reform.

If you believe that it is working perfectly, then we’re wasting our time.  But if you fundamentally see that there is a problem, then there has to be change, and you have to find efforts to seek that change.

You may have noticed that in the PUP’s declaration, there was no mention of the Church, one of the social bodies within the Senate. That’s because the Church hasn’t formally taken a position on the matter. Nonetheless, says Francis Fonseca, they have been in dialogue with the church.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition:

I think the church has not obviously come forward with a public release. But certainly in all the discussions that we have had with them they have indicated their support for the process moving forward.  They believe I think, certainly in terms of their conversation with us, they believe that there is a need for reform. They are not conclusive in terms of the exact nature of that reform, but they believe in reform, and that is all we are asking for. All of us who believe that there is a need to reform the work of the committee, we need to join forces. We have a motion on the table.  If that motion can be improved upon, if that motion can be strengthened in any way, we Are prepared to work with everyone who is committed to that process, including, as I keep saying, the Government of Belize.

A meeting of the PAC has been called by Mr Espat for next week. That meeting will be held in public. But the question remains, how far back will the PAC take its investigation of outstanding Auditor General reports? In fact, Mr Fonseca was asked if the committee will consider Government expenditure from 1998. That is when the UDP Chaired the committee. This was the response.

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition:

That’s a non-issue.  I think that’s absolute nonsense and I think that we should put an end to this charade. The United Democratic Party chaired the Public Accounts Committee for ten years, when the People’s United Party was in government from 1998 – 2008.  If they fail to do their job when they were in opposition, they should not expect the current chairman and the current opposition to their job for them. The current Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has a mandate to move forward with the accounts that have been tabled before him, since he became the Chairman of that Committee.

The day’s affair ended with the Hon. Espat hand delivering the declaration of the People United Party to the Clerk of the National Assembly.

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