‘Accountability is not optional in a democracy’
by Zeph Kajevu
Democracy in Botswana will remain a pipe dream if those in power cannot be held accountable for their acts, omissions, decisions, policies or expenditures, says the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Assistant Auditor General (AAG) Phillip Mutambarah.
He said accountability is not optional in a democracy but is the price paid in exchange for power and delegation of authority. He added that it is the degree to which a Government can be compelled to explain or justify what it has done or failed to do with respect to commitments made at the time of being elected.
Commenting on the PAC’s role in Gaborone last week, Mutambarah warned that lack of accountability could easily lead to corruption or such other unacceptable practice. Thus public financial accountability (PFA) should not be viewed as one of the political catchwords, as it refers to concrete practice of account-giving which is more than mere propaganda or provision of information.
“PFA, a triangular arrangement involving the Executive, Parliament and Auditors’ General led Supreme Institutions, is a means of ensuring public funds are spent in the best possible way. It is also about verification of the legality of financial statements and about making sure value for money has been achieved in the use of public resources. PFA, following mandated procedures, ensures resources are targeted for socially equitable purposes meeting entire citizen needs, rather than benefitting a privileged few.
“PFA involves explaining and justifying conduct; interrogation of incumbents to question the adequacy of information and legitimacy of conduct as well as passing judgment on the conduct.
“The cycle of accountability cannot be closed until Parliament, which appropriated resources for particular purposes at the beginning of the financial year, receives statutory accountability on how they were expended; and hence Government’s need to provide the public with answers and justifications.”
Although PAC’s can be established through a country’s Constitution or Act of Parliament, the majority in the Southern African Development Community, including Botswana, are via House of Assembly Standing Orders. Notwithstanding the legislative framework behind the establishment, it should clearly spell out the Committee’s mandate and the embedded legal powers to fulfill its mandate.
He said the Auditor General’s annual report tabled in Parliament clearly demonstrates that
accountability, transparency and value for money in the use of public funds are essential elements of democratic governance. Parliament also scrutinises the Executive functions, entrusted with implementing the annual budget, enforcing enhanced financial accountability, combating fraud and corruption and promoting good governance that Parliament approves. This increases voter and public confidence in Government institutions credibility and assures responsible use of tax revenues. In democratic countries, such as Botswana, PAC scrutiny of Government expenditure, especially after the vote has been spent, is widely regarded as its operational stranglehold.
“PAC also enforces attendance of witnesses, examining them under oath, affirmation or otherwise and sends for documents it may require. Committee members should be able to distinguish between their political party roles; holding Parliament to account. Although the Committee does not have powers to enforce implementation of its recommendations, public exposure by the media and Civil Society Organisations pressure, could compel Government to enact some recommendations. In the absence of this legal obligation, Government may shelve PAC recommendations indefinitely,” said the AAG.
Despite the tremendous amount of public support, PAC lacks technical expertise from MPs to effectively participate in oversight activities. Since Parliament is Botswana Democratic Party dominated, those MPs who view their legislative career as a stepping into Cabinet are less inclined to tow lines independent from the Executive. The other challenge is that political manipulation does not at times ensure effective checks on Government behaviour and spending. Lack of continuity due to high PAC member turnover, drop-outs during elections, elevations to ministerial positions bringing in untrained freshmen, adversely impact on the efficiency and effectiveness. Furthermore, inadequate administrative and research support budget resources impact operational activities.