PAC weary of poor record-keeping, absent former Accounting Officers
Members of Parliament (MPs), who sit on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), on Monday expressed frustration as poor record-keeping and the absence of several former Accounting Officers within the regions and central government had begun to hamper the review of the Auditor General Reports for 2017 and 2018.
The PAC faced several instances where former Regional Executive Officers (REOs) and Permanent Secretaries (PS) employed during that period could not be found to answer queries on irregular transactions noted by the Auditor General.
Additionally, current Accounting Officers have repeatedly complained of missing documentation and some had appeared before the PAC, but could not remember the transactions from that period.
During a session of the PAC on Monday, Government MP Gail Teixeira asked PAC Chair Jermaine Figueira for the Committee to meet in private to discuss how they will deal with these instances in the future.
“It is very unfair to the present officers who have to answer for the tenure of another person. I would like to have a talk on that issue to consider how we will deal with it internally in the PAC,” Teixeira said.
Opposition MP Ganesh Mahipaul agreed that such a discussion must take place, but argued that PAC must also be cognisant that there are supporting staff and programme managers that guided those accounting officers and are still on staff in the respective agencies.
Teixeira responded, reasoning that the issue was beyond supporting staff, and said maybe it will call for a review of the Financial Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) or the National Archives laws of the country.
Teixeira said there was certainly a need for better record-keeping, but noted that persons once empowered to serve as accounting officials must make themselves available to answer queries before the PAC as the FMAA dictates.
She was supported in her contention by Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill.
“… the buck stops with these Accounting Officers who are overseeing the agencies. Whether it is a PS or REO, they have the power to sanction those supporting staff who do not follow the rules.
“It is becoming more obvious why some of these things happened and documents are not available…we are here asking the wrong people,” Edghill added.
He said while technical officers, accountants and engineers have a responsibility in the matter, none are named as accounting officers.
Mahipaul said he agreed that according to the law the PS and REO are made to answer for the spending, but reasoned that it was unfortunate that the PAC was only now considering the reports from 2017 and 2018.
He said the reality is that some former officers are not within the jurisdiction and others have lost their memory.
The Opposition MP said reducing the backlog and bringing the sessions up to date should solve the issue of some former officers not being on the job and moving on to live in other countries.
“I fully support and endorsed against that backdrop that we speed up and ensure we reach current day.”
The PAC is expected to discuss the issue further with the hope of finding a solution that could result in amendments to the FMAA, the Procurement Act, and other pieces of legislation to ensure greater accountability in public spending.