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Public Accounts Committee concludes its work

Today, Friday 12th June 2015, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the 11th Parliament concludes its examination of the books of accounts of government with inspections of few re-submissions from some ministries.

It has been a long, fatiguing and thought-provoking month for the Chairman of the Committee, Members and the technical and support staff from the offices of the Auditor General, Accountant General, Attorney General and Parliament.

Accounting officers, mainly permanent secretaries and their financial and other officers also worked hard to prepare their submissions to the committee.

Only the Ministry of Health and the Administration of Justice were returned by the committee to put their papers in order.  The committee will next week start working on the report which will be tabled in Parliament for consideration and possible adoption.

Whilst in terms of the Standing Orders of Parliament the composition of the committee is ten members, in most instances only five or six Members attended. One Member never attended a single meeting, the other attended only two while one attended the last two weeks intermittently. In the last week, one MP who has been a regular travelled on another Parliamentary committee assignment.

The committee failed to quorate once on a Friday because as said above it always skated on thin ice with just about the number of MPs required for a quorum.  It is without doubt that the ongoing campaigns for positions in the ruling party central committee has affected the attendance of some members. Moreover, some MPs tried to juggle PAC with their constituencies’ matters.

The Chairman and Guma Moyo who is a veteran of the PAC undoubtedly provided good leadership and guidance. The committee asked third degree questions to senior government officials in order to get them to fully account.

The panel was unmoved by accounting officer who sought to intimidate, evade questions, become technical and at times refuse to account. According to a feature in one of the publications, the committee became a “no nonsense panel”. 

What helped the committee in their work was the personal confidence of most individual members and their experiences and background in different fields and the assistance from the experts advising the team.

Because of the periodic reshuffling of senior civil servants, some accounting officers were new in their ministries and departments and were clearly nervous and not confident while some were new in their positions because they had recently been promoted.

The experience to some new permanent secretaries was clearly fulfilling and one joked that “I have passed the PAC test, now I can call myself

a PS”.

It is a good thing to allow the media to cover the committee’s proceedings and this can be enhanced by a live radio, TV or online broadcast. Other committees should also consider opening to the media and members of the public. 

Both the private and the state media have done a good job on their coverage of the PAC notwithstanding some few incidents of distortions and or misquoting of accounting officers by some journalists who didn’t apply their minds.

All in all it has been a good working relationship between the media and the PAC. However, more transparency of allowing the media access to at least executive summaries and responses to the Auditor General’s report could enhance the role of the media.

I cannot discuss specific cases because that is the committee and Parliament’s work. In other words, the findings are of the committee and will be adopted by the House and a pre-emption in this regard is therefore undesirable. However, some general issues are worth mentioning.

There is a serious problem of capacity and will to collect government revenue including lots of money owed to government. Tax worth Millions of Pula are not remitted to BURS by ministries. The government loses a lot of money through over payments including to dead and retired people. 

Most accounting officers only act on PAC matters weeks before appearing before the committee. Most ministries have shown improvements from the previous financial years. In some cases negligence, corruption and incompetence were suspected.

There is also a lot of unspent money especially on the development budget because of apparent lack of capacity to implement projects. In some instances there is serious lack of proper planning and monitoring and evaluation. Consequently some projects are ill conceived and some are seldom completed within budget and schedule.

It is clear that through the E Government project, ministries and departments have to improve their systems for effectiveness and efficiency, especially in financial and human resource management. Creditably, some ministries have undertaken to set up fulltime teams of staff to deal with matters from PAC and Auditor General.

It is indisputable that the PAC, like many other Parliamentary committees, need to be resourced and capacitated with material and human resources.

There is a need for instance of a Parliamentary Budget Office to assist MPs in their oversight of the public purse.

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