Wednesday, May 5, 2021

With Keorapetse and Gaolatlhe being part of the team, the new PAC should be above suspicion like Caesar’s wife

The newly elected Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is expected to begin its series of meetings this coming week. The committee is chaired by Abraham Kesupile replacing the former chairman, Nehemiah Modubule who is no longer in parliament.

The Public Accounts 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.

As seen elsewhere in this edition, parliament has since selected new members of the committee who will be led by Kesupile. Key appointees in the new committee include Dithapelo Keorapetse, who is not only a youthful legislature but also a former lecturer in the department of Political Science and Administration at the University of Botswana.

In 2014, at just 32, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) MP found himself competing against much older and seasoned politicians. But as fate had it, that was the least of his worries. He made it to parliament and judging by his contribution in the just ended session, Keorapetse should match the highly skilled civil servants in the form of Permanent Secretaries when they come to appear before the committee.

As an academic and most importantly public administration student, Keorapetse should take the Accounting Officers to task. Mostly he should focus on getting answers on why the civil servants in our country have often served to undermine the implementation of key Government projects and policies.

For a very long time, and before the arrival of the current crop of MPs, it seemed and remained true that we had a long way to go before our legislatures came anywhere near most of our Accounting Officers.

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 will bring an end to the continuous failure by some ministries to perform even simple tasks such as tax remittance.

As part of his team, Gaolathe 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 affects performance precisely when it comes to accountability.

We expect the likes of Gaolathe as well as other members such as Ignatius Moswaane 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.

While we note with delight the inclusion of young and learned legislatures in the form of Dithapelo Keorapetse and Ndaba Gaolathe, we also pin our hopes on BDP MP Guma Moyo. Moyo is a seasoned member of the committee who has set in the last two sessions. He however disappointed us in the last session when he, together with Kagiso Molatlhegi snubbed most of the meetings.

As the only old member of the committee, Moyo should be reminded that the overall progress of any country owes itself largely to accountability and transparency. That is why perhaps in the previous session, 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.

With all these in mind, the new PAC Chairman, Kesupile should not, by any chance lower the standards set by Modubule. Until just two 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 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 in 2013 that Nehemiah Modubule committee made the decision to go public.

But we are glad that the Modubule committee was later visited by the holy spirit in the form of ‘common sense’ which dictates that such meetings should be held in public, not only as a way of enhancing transparency but also bearing mind the power dynamics in Botswana.

When saying his goodbyes last year, Modubule and his team also indicated that there were still a few ministries whose level of compliance was still of concern. It is now the task of Kesupile and the likes of Keorapetse and Gaolathe and hopefully, Markus, to push these rogue elements to up their game and implement the recommendations made by the previous PAC. The end result would be an improvement of financial management in Government.

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 forums such as the PAC meetings.

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