Sunday, October 17, 2021

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should grow bigger teeth and start biting

As reported elsewhere in this edition, the parliamentary Public Accounts committee (PAC) is expected to start its session this coming week. The committee is one of 16 Committees of Parliament charged with overseeing the activities of the Executive. 

For the sake of those who are not familiar with the committee, the PAC is specifically responsible for overseeing government expenditure through calling ministries and parastatals to appear and account in accordance with Section 95(3) of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly. 

For some few years now, the PAC continues to do an ‘effective job’ in scrutinising the expenditure of public finances. It has also been key player in investigating issues that are slightly broader in perspective. 

There is no doubt that the PAC is a vital tool that could be used to oversee government expenditure and ensure that tax payers’ monies are not wasted as is the case now. 
Unfortunately, owing to the deliberate emaciation of state institutions by the executive, the PAC remains toothless, atleast when it comes to implementation of its recommendations. For a very long time now, the committee’s role has been limited to critising hapless accounting officers but failing to impose sanctions on those who have been wayward. 

The truth of the matter is that true democracy will remain a pipe dream for our country if those in power cannot be held accountable for their acts, omissions, decisions, policies or expenditures. 

For a very long time, and before the arrival of the immediate past and current committee, it seemed and remained true that we had a long way to go before our legislatures came anywhere near most of our Accounting Officers. This relate to issues of accounting and public finance management. 

At the same time, until just three years back, 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 even 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 in 2013 the Nehemiah Modubule committee made the decision to go public. 

We are glad that as a way of showing an itch to grow bigger teeth the then Modubule committee found it important to have the PAC meetings held in public. Going public was a good step in the right direction since it does not only enhance transparency but a way of earning credibility bearing in mind the power dynamics in Botswana. 

As stated before, and not meaning to demean the previous members of the committee, we believe the arrival of the likes of Ndaba Gaolathe, a finance student who also stands out as a key appointee in this new committee could bring an end to the continuous failure by some ministries to perform even simple tasks such as tax remittance.

 
We expect the likes of Gaolathe as well as other members such as Ditlhapelo Keorapetse and Biggie Butale to go further and push for the strengthening of the PAC by, amongst others, giving it more powers to go as far as recommending punishment that is enforceable in the courts of laws.

The truth of the matter is that changes that are required to be made to the PAC however do not end with making its session public. So the next step should be to make it more powerful. The end result would be an improvement of public finance management at the Government enclave.

One other thing, the current PAC should ensure that they continue making recommendations to the powers that be, that, for the sake of accountability and good performance, the transfers of accounting officers be kept at a minimal level if possible. This will in turn make an end to the frequent reshuffle of permanent secretaries and government departmental directors, which he affects performance precisely when it comes to accountability.

As said before in this space, the Civil Service in our country remains a very powerful institution because it is a repository of so much talent and experience. As a result, the #Bottomline dictates that we regard public accountability as an important prerequisite for proper and effective delivery of the public projects and services. And we can only do that through an effective and toothful PAC. 

 

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