Congratulations are in order to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which wrapped up its business of the 52ND examination of government books at parliament on Friday. As all might be aware, the PAC is provided for as per standing Order 95 of the National Assembly. In this regard, the PAC examined the government Accounting Officers from mid May until last week Friday as per that particular Standing Order. The accounts examined included the Annual Statements of Accounts and the accounts of Special Funds. In addition, Accounting Officers were examined on progress made on issues raised in the Public Accounts Committee Work-in-progress report and on the Public Accounts Committee recommendations from the findings made at the previous sessions.
Until just last year, the PAC meetings were held behind closed door. It was not clear who was being protected from the scrutiny of the public by holding PAC meetings in camera. Some of us had come to a conclusion that the reluctance by parliament then, to lift the veil of secrecy, was due to the fact that our esteemed legislators were also benefiting one way or the other. We thought maybe our legislatures’ economic and financial ignorance was also kept away from the public scrutiny by holding the meetings behind closed doors. But it was until last year that Nehemiah Modubule and his team made the decision to go public.
The PAC got to a point where they finally realized that for transparency, accountability and good governance to flourish, the availability of public accounts on a timely basis is absolutely critical. But not just that, the allowance of the members of public as well as the media into such meetings was critical. As matter of fact, making the meetings public is the very basic requirement for accountability and good governance to work. This applies to both the accounting officers and MPs who act as watchdogs.
It is worth noting, with delight, that in general there has been a great improvement with regard to the quality and calibre of MPs forming the PAC ÔÇô a trait that has culminated in enhanced quality of questions that PAC members ask the accounting officers. Isaac Kgosi of the DIS…or Marcus Chimbombi of the Agriculture ministry could attest to that. Even Neil Fitt can be a witness. When addressing members of the fourth estate on Friday, the outgoing chairman of the committee, Nehemiah Modubule, did share some of the few observations made by his committee.
It was relieving to hear Modubule say that since the last session, “there had been some improvement in the level of compliance with regulations compared to previous years.” Imagine such a statement said about public servants. Although Modubule and his team also indicated that there were still a few ministries whose level of compliance was still of concern, he urged those rogue elements to up their game and implement the recommendations made by the committee. As the committee said, the end result would be an improvement of financial management in Government. Modubule hinted at the press conference on Friday that some ministries continue to fail even simple tasks such as tax remittance. This is uncalled for.
The point we are trying to make is that when a sore is allowed to fester, it will eventually become a scab. That’s precisely what’s been happening in government for so many years. But then again how do we remain hopeful that civil servants would act accordingly when legislators act otherwise? It is vital to remind two of the members of the PAC who decided to ditch the just ended meetings of the importance of this kind of congregation. Guma Moyo and Kagiso Molatlhegi should not forget that that Public Accounts Committee is an important accountability mechanism by parliament over the executive arm of the government. When quizzed about the whereabouts of this duo, the committee chairman clearly indicated that he does not know where they are.
“This is an election year”, he said. But the two legislators ought to remember that accountability is the underpinning principle of civilized societies. The Bottom-Line is that we regard public accountability as an important prerequisite for proper and effective delivery of the public service.
The overall progress of any country owes itself largely to accountability and transparency. The elderly Gilson Saleshando, although he appeared tired most of the times, stuck around from day one to the last day. His human interest questions were of great benefit to the various accounting officers who appeared before the PAC. The contribution by Master Goya, a banker by profession cannot be questioned by anyone. The same sentiments could be said about Kentse Rammidi. Even Fedils Molao, Prince Maele and Philip Makgalemele were equally useful throughout the sessions. Their ruling party ‘mentality’ did help everyone to realise that the PAC signifies one of the essential constituents of parliamentary dominion which is the culpability of our taxes.
Moving forward, there is a need to strengthen the PAC by, amongst others, giving it more powers to go as far as recommending punishment that is enforceable in the courts of laws. Isaac Mabiletsa, a member of the committee, does know some of the countries who have done so. He could be of great help.