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#471103 - 08/27/13 06:39 AM Fight over Public Accounts Committee continues
Marty Offline
The Prime Minister’s Office took an official position against the proposed changes to the Public Accounts Committee; however, PAC Chairman Hon. Julius Espat says the reasons are “bogus.”

An official release from the Prime Minister’s office on Wednesday, said that the proposed changes to the PAC would be inconsistent with the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, which require that the ruling government be the majority on all Standing Committees.

The release also said that Cabinet considered the support to the proposed changes by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), but is convinced that the proposal would and render the work of the PAC too expensive and impractical.

The release further said that the current structure of the PAC is suitable to carry out the committee’s work, but has been non-functional because the chairman is “game playing,” and “grandstanding.”

Espat refuted that the addition of the three social partner senators would unbearably raise the cost of operating the PAC because committee members are not paid to be on the committee.

He explained that commuters are given a fuel stipend of $8.00 per mile when they have to travel to Belmopan, which pales in comparison to the price of one of the vehicles purchased by GOB.

Espat also refuted the notion that the current structure of the PAC is adequate, saying that nothing productive has come out of the PAC since 1981, and challenged the PM to show tangible proof if anything has.

He highlighted that he has the support of both the business community and the trade unions, which make up a large percentage of the working population of Belize, in response to the allegations of him, “game playing,” and “grand standing.”

Espat emphasized that he is willing to work with the government and all stakeholders in reforming the PAC, even to the extent of having one of the social partner senators chair the committee. He stressed that reform is the only means of ensuring that the PAC works for the people of Belize.

The Reporter

#471200 - 08/28/13 06:03 AM Re: Fight over Public Accounts Committee continues [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PUP Sign to PAC Declaration

The Public Accounts Committee – for decades, nothing happened with it, no meetings were held, important public work was left undone, only few noticed and hardly anyone complained – but ever since PUP Deputy Leader Julius Espat raised the idea for a radically re-constituted P-A-C at the end of July, it’s become an issue of great public discourse and debate.

The Chamber of Commerce was the first to endorse it and then the NTUCB, but in a release sent out yesterday, the Chamber seemed to have cooled off considerably on the Espat plan, and basically urged both sides to just get the P-A-C working. With that tepid reaction and the fact that the Council of Churches has not gotten on board – the effort for radical re-constitution of the moribund committee might have seemed to be losing steam.

But politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum and just as things were starting to lag, the PUP Representatives went all-in today, starched up those Guayaberas and headed for Belmopan from as far as Punta Gorda and Orange Walk. There, on Independence Hill they made a declaration on the PAC – and 7news was there for it.

Hon. Francis Fonseca - Leader of the Opposition
"We are very serious about change, about reform - we're not only talking about it, we're going to act on it."

And today, acting on it meant 11 PUP Parliamentarians gathering outside the National Assembly building and launching a declaration on the Public Accounts Committee:

Julius Espat - Area Rep, Cayo South
"This 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."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"And we, the 14 duly elected members of the House of Representatives of the People's United Party and our three senators do hereby declare that within the first 100 days of the next PUP government - we shall implement this proposed reform of the Public Accounts Committee. The attempt by this UDP government to usurp the functions of the Committee is unlawful and undemocratic. We will not participate in or accept any effort by this UDP Prime Minister and Cabinet to undermine the legitimate authority of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. We call upon this UDP Prime Minister and Cabinet to immediately decist from continuing to engage in political games, we believe we're on the right side of this issue. We stand on the side of the business community, of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize calling for reform of the committee. We are not saying that we have all the answers, we are saying we are prepared to working with all of these partners to find a solution."

Jules Vasquez
"One of the fundamental stumbling blocks in the PAC as it is presently constituted moving forward is whether it will take into account auditor general reports dating back to 1998 or it will start at the present date with 2012 report?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"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. We will not play this political game which is exactly what it is - of talking about what happened 10 or 15 years ago. The Belizean people are interested in what is taking place now, they want to know how their money is being spent today and what value they're getting for that money."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, isn't it a fair interpretation to say that the reason that you all are out here today is because the effort is loosing steam because it has been exposed for the profound defects that the motion tabled before the House - how do we conclude this loosing steam? The churches has not come forward and the chamber has gone completely cold, they sent out a very luke warm response to the Prime Minister yesterday, so it's clear that the social partners are leaving this proposition on the table and you all have to appear here to try and give this limp motion - some life."

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"Absolute nonsense, that was some very editorializing on your part. The fact is that all of the social partners, the Trade Union Congress, the Chamber of Commerce, the Churches - all are in support of reform - obviously they expect us to lead the reform. The church has not 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."

And while we must assume that support remains private, the PUP is moving on with an agenda for the PAC:

Hon. Francis Fonseca
"The honorable Julus Espat will also today be presenting to the clerk of the National Assembly, a letter calling for a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee and an agenda will be accompanying that call and the requisitioning of a meeting of the PAC and so there will be a meeting. He is convening a meeting for September - next week Wednesday and all the members will be invited to that meeting - it will be a public meeting."

Of course, the government has also committed to a public meeting – saying it will hold its members will meet on Monday’s and Tuesday’s, but they gave no start date.

And while Espat expects the UDP members to come to his committee meeting, why then wasn’t he at the meeting of the Finance and Economic Development Committee which met yesterday? Espat and John Briceno are members and none of them showed up to review a number of bills. Espat told us today that he did show up for the meeting on the previous Monday but it was re-scheduled to this week Monday, when both he and Briceno could not attend because they had to go to a PUP Parliamentary Caucus.

Channel 7


Whereas the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) is meeting this evening to formulate its position on a declaration from the Office of the Prime Minister that no reform of the Public Accounts Committee is necessary; and that the committee can move ahead with reviewing the Auditor General Reports in two series: pre-2008 and post-2008—the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry made its unequivocal position known via a press release issued today: that is, PAC’s work needs to proceed.

“The method by which it is done is still open to question, and we are reserving the right to see how the PM’s proposal proceeds,” president of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kay Menzies, indicated to our newspaper today.

The Office of the Prime Minister issued a statement on Wednesday, August 21, announcing that, “the Government side of the Committee will insist now that the Chairman calls 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.”

It goes on to say that, “In any given week when the Committee meets, it should do so on two days of that particular week. The first day should be given over to the first set of reports, and the second day to the second set of reports.”

“If that doesn’t work, however, we cannot give up,” Menzies said.

Menzies maintains that PAC’s work needs to move forward.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “we want to see the Auditor General’s reports reviewed and acted upon. That is the critical part of all of this.”

PAC chairman, Julius Espat, had recently proposed a motion for reform of the PAC – to give three seats to the unions, private sector and churches; leaving the Opposition People’s United Party and the ruling United Democratic Party with two seats each. This new formula would put the social partners—and not the politicians—in the driving seat.

Espat said that the press release from the Office of the Prime Minister, outlining the recommendations from Cabinet, really do not pave the way for the needed reform of the PAC.

“You’re still asking the police to police themselves and we’re playing games. The system hasn’t worked from 1981, so why are we playing political charades here? Today, the Prime Minister decides that he will do it; tomorrow he will shut it down again,” Espat said.

“The Chamber vigorously renews its call on both the Government of Belize and the Opposition to ensure a fully functioning Public Accounts Committee,” the Chamber said in its statement today.

It added that, “The fundamental concern of the Chamber is to ensure that said reports are thoroughly reviewed and reported upon, so that appropriate corrective measures regarding resource expenditures are taken where necessary by the Government and all its departments.”

It reiterates the functions of the PAC – that is, to examine, consider and report on: (1) the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by the National Assembly to meet the public expenditure of the country; (2) such other accounts as may be referred to the committee by the House or under any law; and (c) the report of the Auditor General on any such accounts.


#471728 - 09/03/13 06:08 AM Re: Fight over Public Accounts Committee continues [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PM On PAC: Takes A Shot At NTUCB, Hits Hon. Finnegan As Collateral Damage

Another issue of much public interest is the Public Accounts Committee; Government and The Opposition disagree sharply about the way forward for this important House committee. The opposition wants to re-constitute the membership completely; Government wants it to say as is; The Opposition wants to review Auditor General Reports from 2012 going forward; the Government wants them to go back to 2008.

The Chamber of Commerce, which had initially jumped on the Opposition plan – has backed off, and simply urged both sides to get along. But the National Trade Union Congress of Belize is sticking with the Opposition model, and has criticized the Prime Minister for not having the will to push forward with real reform. Today, he shot back at the NTUCB, and claimed his Party Whip Michael Finnegan as collateral damage in the process:

Jules Vasquez
"You had mentioned that it would be too costly or too complex to change it."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"I don't care what they buy - let me make it clear again, I am not going to offend the principle of 'majority rules', I am not going to offend the standing orders of the House. Note that the Chamber of Commerce quite sensibly said 'in effect, we're not really interested in any restructuring of the Public Accounts Committee - all we want is to see the work done'. I've already put forward a proposal that can get the work done, so with every respect to the NTUCB and not to quarrel with them - we will press on and there will be no restructuring of the Public Accounts Committee so as to make it unruly and to violate not just the standing orders but the whole principle of democracy."

"The precedent had been set, where rules can be changed - the Constitutional Ammendments for Nationalization so they are saying that this can be done."

Hon. Dean Barrow
"Let me try to be cool and constrained. I was really disappointed - Constitutional Ammendments are a whole different story. I don't know how NTUCB could 'mix up the ham with the hammer' - we're talking about standing orders of the House and we're saying that they're absolutely no need to change the standing orders because the committee as it is currently constituted can work and will work."

"What will you hope will happen Wednesday afternoon?"

Hon. Dean Barrow
"I would hope that the current chair of the Public Accounts Committee will recognize that the game is over; that there is a need to adapt the agenda that our side, which is what the majority is proposing - adapt the schedule that we are proposing so that we can look at both sets of reports, simultaneously. If they are not prepared to go with that then we have the votes to force that schedule and that agenda through and that's exactly what we will do and we will proceed thereafter to do the work."

"Mr. Finnegan had said that virtually all the House committees are dysfunctional - that sometimes meetings only last a few minutes - can you speak to that?"

Hon. Dean Barrow
"Sometimes meetings last a few minutes, sometimes they last two and a half hours like the meeting of the Finance and Economic Development Committee - which was considering the various bills having to do with offshore sector, last Monday. I think Mr. Finnegan spoke in a way that did not in fact address the full picture."

On Thursday, Finnegan told 7news, quote, “all the committees are non functional,” and added that House Members do not have the “capacity” to review hefty and technical pieces of legislation.

Channel 7


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