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."
"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."
"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.
LET’S GET PAC-ING, SAYS CHAMBER
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.