PAC doesn’t hold Government’s “feet to the fire”

The functions of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have failed to effect any meaningful change in holding Governments to account.

This is the view of two of this island’s political pundits, Senator Dr Kristina Hinds and Peter Wickham.

Currently, there is no chair of the PAC since there is no parliamentary opposition leader after the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), for the second consecutive time, secured all 30 seats in the last General Elections.

Hinds, while supporting calls to have PAC functioning again, knocked the body for not being “very effective” in holding Governments to account in the past. She however admitted not having a PAC chair was a problem.

”We do have a PAC, but the issue that I believe we have now is that PAC lacks a chair. I think this is something that needs to be rectified for the PAC to function, because the chair is really responsible for the meetings and the conduct of meetings, so without a leader of the opposition, we don’t have a chair. So we are in a kind of limbo,” she said.

Hinds, Head of the Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology at the University of the West Indies, also noted that one of the many inefficiencies of the PAC was the fact that the chair, who is also the leader of the opposition may at times have to lead probes into matters his administration was a part of.

Parliament Buildings (FILE)

She added: “I still want to emphasise that even when we have had a functioning PAC, PAC has not had a lot of success in terms of going beyond raising issues that have come out in the Auditor General’s report.”

Wickham, a political analyst, also agreed that the PAC has been inefficient over the years.

“I don’t think that it has ever been a moment in our history when the Public Accounts Committee was able to hold Government’s feet to the fire. This is the case across the Caribbean and the challenge really is that the PAC is a mechanism designed to operate in countries that have a larger critical mass where the unwillingness of the government to show up would not essentially represent a loss of a quorum.

Recently, the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) in a statement, called on Government to make any legislative changes needed to have the PAC functioning again.

The BPSA said: “The lack of a functioning Public Accounts Committee is a serious concern and one which we agree with other stakeholders, should also be addressed as a matter of urgency given the independent monitoring functionality and scope of the Committee. Whilst the absence of a parliamentary opposition has deprived the Committee of a Chairman, the Government has within its power the ability to move swiftly to correct this legislative shortcoming.”

Hinds is concerned that the discrepancies within some Government entities flagged in the auditor generals’ reports are not dealt with properly. She suggested that there needs to be “some form of sanctions or punitive measures as a deterrent. And another, which is perhaps complementary and not necessarily alternative, is to have remediation. So what do we do to ensure that we don’t see the same kinds of issues arising in the next Auditor General’s report and the next one and the next one?”

Wickham, however, blames the current independent senators for the lack of a functioning PAC, noting that the Prime Minister attempted to make constitutional changes that would allow for among other things someone other than an Opposition leader to chair the PAC back in January 2022.

“It’s not the fault of the government certainly, it’s the fault of the independent senators who were not willing to support [the constitutional changes]. And the reality is, I would discourage Government strongly from going back to that matter until the  [constitutional] review is finished, because at that point in time, the independent senators said that we should not make any changes to the constitution… we should wait until there is a full review to make comprehensive changes,” he added. (AL)

 

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