The PAC meets at the National Assembly in Belmopan

It’s been a long time coming – a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee and we were hoping to bring you inside coverage of that gathering; however the media was not allowed past the chamber’s door… but we’ll get back to that point in a few. Just before the meeting convened, we spoke with Chairman of PAC, the Hon. Julius Espat about his expectations going into Wednesday’s meeting. Here’s what he said.

Hon. Julius Espat – Chairman, PAC:

vlcsnap-2013-09-05-07h56m03s182I expect that it should be cordial and professional encounter, and we should be mature enough to discuss our differences.  But as the Chairman I have a mandate as to what my party had decided, and what the Belizean people have told us as to what they want, and I will stick to that.   But that doesn’t mean that they can’t come up with their agendas or their proposals.  And that does not mean that we cannot even discuss it or debate it.  We have to be mature.  We have to find a way for accountability and transparency to start work.

 

vlcsnap-2013-09-05-07h54m58s35vlcsnap-2013-09-05-07h55m27s81Members from both sides of the House did arrive for the meeting and proceeded inside. However, about forty minutes after it begun The Chairman and his colleague, PAC member the Hon. Rodwell Ferguson exited the building, followed some fifteen minutes later by the Government’s side – that is – the Hon. John Saldivar, Hon. Michael Finnegan, Hon. Edmund Castro and the Hon. Herman Longsworth. It was a rather short meeting, and that is because right after the commencement of the meeting a point of order was raised, supposedly to decide on just how far back the PAC would take its appraisals of the Auditor General’s reports.  Chairman Julius Espat of the opposition, proposed that they reviewed the current reports, while Government members tabled an alternate agenda. Since they hold a 4 to 2 majority, voting went in their favor.

vlcsnap-2013-09-05-08h13m07s186Hon. Michael Finnegan – Member PAC:

He made a proposed agenda to discuss the 2010/2011 auditor’s general report. Mr. Saldivar made a counter-proposal that we proceed with 2003, 2004,2005 auditor’s report. There was a stalemate, and if there’s a stalemate in a democratic process, then you would have to revert to a vote. There was a vote and Mr. Saldivar’s proposal was accepted. At that stage the chairman then walked out of the meeting.

Julius Espat argues that such an agenda goes against the principal mandate of the Public Accounts Committee.

Hon. Julius Espat – Chairman, PAC:

I had a proposed agenda.  They [did] not agree to that, and have a new proposed agenda.  We’re saying that I cannot accept any proposed agenda that goes against what the mandate of Public Accounts Committee is.  It is a simple mandate.  It is one of oversight. Oversight has to do with what we’re dealing with now, to solve the present problems that we have, so that we can have a formula as to how to move forward.  They want to go back and do what they call forensic auditing. They are trying to go on a political witch hunt, and we are saying the Prime Minister and the cabinet has all the power to go to the House of Representatives and create a special select committee to do that, if that is what they wish.  We don’t have any objections to that. What we are objecting to, is that they are trying to dilute what the Public Accounts Committee stands for. They are trying to distract the Belizean people from reality.  All the Belizean people want to know is how their money is being spent.

In our case we had no problem, but I had to speak sternly because, as you are aware, they are saying that it’s power by majority, so what they say we have to agree to.  We had to stand our ground.

All differences aside, it seems that the PAC will move forward. We asked what’s next for the committee, as well what are the Chairman’s plan to bring the evaluation process outside of the chambers of the National Assembly.

Hon. Julius Espat – Chairman, PAC:

What’s next for us?  We will go to the people. We will follow what George Price did. We will have our people’s assembly. We will go to each constituency, and I start it by going Sunday to Corozal Southwest, where I as the chairman will be making our report and we will be analyzing the Auditor General’s report. I have been invited by the Southern Caucus to start a tour next week, and we will go to each constituency, and will explain to the people what transparency is all about.  We are serious about our job.  We will go to the people.  I don’t have to be here, because they don’t even want us here, as you have seen.  They didn’t even want the representatives to be in their House.  But we are representatives of the people, and the people want information. 

vlcsnap-2013-09-05-08h38m50s26Hon. John Saldivar – Member, PAC:

That agenda includes accepting a schedule of public hearings to deal with all the Auditor General’s Reports that we have to review, and that schedule has now been accepted by the Committee, and the first public hearing will be held on September 23rd.  As we have proposed, we proposed on Mondays, we will start with the 23rd of September, to deal with the old ones, and on Wednesday, which would be the 25th of  September, to deal with the ones that cover this current administration.

In a press release issued Wednesday  evening, the Chairman, the Hon. Julius Espat maintains “Our responsibility is clear that we need to deal with the Auditor General’s report that was tabled in the house during our tenure as Legislatures. We are not historians, and we are not responsible to do the job of past chairman’s and their committees. In the mean time though, we will exhaust all efforts to make sure the present formula does its job”.

About the Author