Friday, January 22, 2021

Discordant systems in the Administration of Parliament kill accountability – Auditor General

The ability of Members of Parliament to make informed contributions towards productive debate on matters that verge on national interest is considered highly critical in ensuring that Parliament becomes effective in the pursuit of its oversight role.

In spite of this, it has been revealed by the Auditor General that the research capacity of the staff assigned to provide support for Parliament in that regard is seriously wanting.

The Standing Orders of the National Assembly of Botswana provide that every committee should, from time to time, report to the Assembly concerning the matters referred to it. Against this background, an arrangement exists that committees should prepare reports after completion of their assignments, to be tabled before Parliament.

Notwithstanding this rule, the report of the Auditor General on the effectiveness of the support given to Parliament by the Parliament Administration observed “…most committees had been failing to produce reports as was required”.

This failure is said to have resulted in the Legislature being without information and knowledge on which to base their discussions, for the full delivery of their mandate.

The audit report has attributed the anomaly to what it described as lack of capacity in the Division responsible for providing the Secretariat that was to support committees. The Policies, Procedures and Practices (or PPP as it is sometimes referred to) reportedly suffers an acute shortage of personnel to man the Secretariat, thereby rendering the smooth running of Parliamentary committees a challenge.

“Even their (PPP) attempt at solving this challenge by pooling officers from other Divisions in Parliament only helped create other challenges, particularly regarding supervision of the said pooled staff, as they did not fall under the direct jurisdiction of the PPP Division,” stated the Audit report.

For instance, where the pooled secretaries did not do committee work with due diligence, or simply just neglected it claiming (and may be rightly so) that their core business was lagging behind, the Division has naturally found itself helpless and powerless to act against such behaviour.

To compound the situation, the Auditor General observed that each secretary served in at least two committees, despite the demands dictated by giving support to Parliamentary committees and them (the secretaries) being short-staffed.

As if things are not bad enough, these secretaries are usually redeployed to other committees at the end of every Parliament session, or whenever the Clerk saw fit. This has not gone down well with the Office of the Auditor General (OAG).

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“This appeared to be done with no particular consideration of whether these secretaries had qualifications and skills relevant to the work of the committees they were assigned to,” lamented the Auditor General.

Consequently, this practice tends to disrupt officers’ chances of developing or gaining adequate experience to be able to offer specialized advice on policy matters, to committees they served.

In this context, the Auditors expressed the view, therefore that the absence of an adequate and committed Committees’ Secretariat seriously undermined the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall support system that the Parliament Administration provided to Parliament.

On account of the state of affairs relating to the operations at the supposedly key, of the three arms of Government, the auditors argued that, even though Parliament Administration had set as one of their objectives to develop and implement standards for the operations of Parliamentary committees by 31st March, 2006, this has not been achieved at the time of the audit.

To cap it all, “Our enquiry to some of the Research Institutions revealed that, the competencies required for the researcher are that he/she should be able to investigate, analyze, advise and or recommend,” posited the Auditor General.

However, at the Parliament Administration, they had their own way about it. The Parliament Research Unit especially at the time of auditing reportedly lacked capacity in terms of number and requisite skills to carry out research.

“Except for a few weeks’ crash course on research techniques, the two officers manning the Division did not have adequate skills to be able to carry out research that would enable MPs to make informed decisions,” read part of the report.

Strikingly, though, even on the advent of the decision to increase MPs and Members of the House of Chiefs, the management found no basis to adjust to the new capacity demand.

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