The Public Accounts Committee will convene Wednesday and Thursday to investigate the long delay in the Government’s financial reporting as detailed in the Special Report of the Auditor General released in July.
Opposition MLA Rolston Anglin, who is a minority member of the PAC, criticised the decision to move past previous reports left to be investigated in order to look at this one, and to do so while government backbench MLA Osbourne Bodden still has the chairmanship.
When the People’s Progressive Movement Government took office after the May 2005 election and installed Mr. Bodden as chairman, it said the chairmanship of the PAC would pass over to the Opposition as soon as it had completed reviewing all of the reports concerning the previous government. Forty months later, and with the next general election only eight months away, Mr. Bodden is still chairman.
‘[The People’s Progressive Movement] were very critical and inferred the old PAC [under the previous administration] had dragged its feet in getting reports out,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘When they got in there they said they were going to get to work hard and get things done and then hand over the chairmanship to the Opposition.’
Mr. Anglin doesn’t believe the current PAC has dealt with its matters in an expeditious way.
‘The truth is, we have not met as often as we could have,’ he said. ‘We still have some reports to finish.’
One of those reports is on Royal Watler Cruise Terminal project. Testimony from witnesses on that matter ended in late May and at the time, Mr. Bodden said he hoped to complete the PAC report in ‘one to two months’. Almost four months later, the report has yet to be tabled in the Legislative Assembly.
Order of investigations
Mr. Anglin also criticised the PAC for deciding to take on the investigation of the delay in financial reporting before it investigated reports of the auditor general that were issued much earlier.
‘They jumped ahead of a lot of important ones,’ he said, mentioning the Special Report of the Auditor General dealing with the financing arrangements of the Boatswain’s Beach/Turtle Farm project. That report was issued in July 2007.
‘They want to jump the gun because they believe [the auditor general’s report on financial reporting] makes them look bad and they want to look at that now so they can blame it on the civil servants.’
The PAC issued a statement after the auditor general’s report was released announcing it would commence witness calling on the matter in early September. Among those it mentioned will call are Chief Secretary George McCarthy, Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson, chief officers and chief financial officers.
‘Whilst the auditor general’s report paints a dismal picture, the PAC’s focus will be on solutions,’ last month’s statement said.
Mr. Anglin noted that the PAC will now investigate a matter that could reflect badly on the sitting government, and yet the chairmanship of the PAC will remain with Mr. Bodden.
Auditor General Dan Duguay said he was just notified of the coming PAC hearings last Thursday. When contacted Saturday, he commented on the order in which his reports are usually dealt with.
‘It’s been the practice to take them in chronological order in the past,’ he said. ‘But it’s up to the PAC to decide the timing of the reports and the order.’
Both the PPM and the United Democratic Party believe the PAC should have constitutional backing. However, they differ on a key point.
In its Revised Proposals for Constitutional Modernisation, the PPM states there should be two PAC committees when there is a change of government; one, of which the Opposition would have chairmanship and majority of members, to scrutinise the accounts and reports of the new government; and one, of which the new Government would have chairmanship and majority of members; to scrutinise the accounts and reports of the previous government.
‘That’s ludicrous,’ said Mr. Anglin of the PPM’s proposal. ‘Nowhere else in the Commonwealth do they have such an overly bureaucratic system. That’s a silly proposal.’
Mr. Anglin, who served as PAC chairman for four years under the previous administration, said the idea two PAC’s were necessary was not grounded in fact.
‘No PAC report is going to be issued unless all members have their say,’ he said. ‘No report on the Opposition, for instance, is going to go easy on the Opposition because all members have to agree with it.’
Mr. Anglin said when he served as PAC chairman there were plenty of times he had to reach compromises on language in the report so that everyone would agree.
He said the ‘nuclear bomb’ of any PAC would be to have a dissenting report.
‘[The PPM’s] argument holds no water,’ he said. ‘They’re taking advantage of the fact that the public doesn’t really understand the intricacies of the system.’
‘The way [the PPM] explains it, people say ‘yes, that sounds reasonable’, but they don’t understand how the system really works.
‘The truth is there is no reason why there shouldn’t have been a change in the [PAC] chairmanship.’
During its Constitution consultation meeting last Wednesday at Mary Miller Hall, the topic of the PAC came up and Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush made the UDP’s views clear.
‘We want the PAC to be in the constitution and the Leader of the Opposition or his designate to be the chairman, as is customary in the Commonwealth,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘We also want the auditor general to report to the PAC, as is customary in the Commonwealth.’
Although the Opposition members at the meeting – Mr. Bush, Mr. Anglin and West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. – generally agreed that PAC meetings should be held in public and agreed with a constitutional provision saying so, Mr. Anglin said there could arise matters of national security or sub judicy that would necessitate testimony being held in camera.