The Belizean people, via the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), will be able to officially scrutinize how well the Government of Belize (GOB) is spending the public funds, PAC Chairman Julius Espat said Tuesday.
The P.A.C., the only committee in the House of Representatives that is chaired by the Opposition, is tasked with overseeing how efficiently the government manages its accounts. It also works in conjunction with the Auditor General's Office.
Espat underscored the fact that PAC is also the only House Committee that can have meetings that are open to the public. He explained that according to the government's legal advisor, Mr. Gian Ghandi, not only can citizens attend meetings but they will also be able to raise relevant questions and concerns that could trigger an audit investigation into how monies are being spent.
Espat said, for example, an active Public Accounts Committee could order an investigation to verify whether or not the government is being entirely accurate when it says it can't afford a certain initiative.
Referencing the 2010/2011 Auditor General's Report, he also noted that the report looked at how money is wasted even on fuel for government vehicles that are often mismanaged or kept for private use. He also discussed the need to look more closely at the amount of monies spent on political contract officers.
"We could investigate if the monies are being properly allocated, and make recommendations to reduce wastages," he said.
He explained that as things are now, the Auditor General's Office would investigate specific cases of fraud based on request from the respective ministries; however, under his chairmanship and with the involvement of the electorate, PAC would be able to request such investigations.
Speaking on the most efficient way for the public to be involved and avoid chaos at meetings, Espat said that various civil society groups and associations should choose representatives from their midst who can communicate their interests and concerns at the committee meetings, which can be called at the chairman's discretion.
"Even the media, via a media association, could pose specific questions that can lead to an investigation into a particular issue; however, for the committee to be effective, we need the people to be involved," Espat said.
The people's role in the meetings is especially important given the fact that the composition of the committee is two to four, in favor of the incumbent government. Therefore, while Espat, the People's United Party (PUP)'s area representative for Cayo South, functions as the chairman, four of the six members of PAC are of the United Democratic Party.
Espat said that this might raise a specific problem, because should the other members of the committee choose to absent themselves, it may prevent them from achieving quorum.
The only way to make such attempts unsuccessful is to have the public involved in the discussion from the very start.
"This means that the citizens of Belize who attend the committee meetings would have to function as the pressure groups to force the members of the committee to do their jobs, and attend meetings," Espat said.
The first meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, November 12, 2012. Espat encourages the various civil society groups and associations to prepare their questions in their areas of expertise and forward them to the PAC prior to the initial meeting.
The other members of the committee are Hon. Rodwell Ferguson, Hon. Patrick Faber, Hon. John Saldivar, Hon. Michael Finnegan, and Hon. Erwin Contreras.The Reporter