PAC must be held to account

The Public Accounts Committee, perhaps more than any other, must itself be accountable to the public. It is, in effect, the “protector of the public purse,” which is just a rather elevated way of saying that it’s supposed to look after how your government is spending your money.

Above all, the PAC, as it’s commonly known, must be perceived to be beyond reproach — and primarily that means beyond the influence of politics and political favor. In fact, the opposite has become the norm.

The reputation of the committee, based on its performance — actually nonperformance — has been abysmal for years. Its chairmen, who have no real power, historically have bemoaned that they have difficulty even convening enough members to comprise a quorum.

Former PAC Chairman Ezzard Miller, who in 2011 gave up his post in frustration, complained that even when a meeting did take place, the elected members had done little or no homework and were totally unprepared to question intelligently the witnesses before them.

He became so exasperated that at one point he summoned all chief officers and chief financial officers before his PAC and explained to them that the Public Management and Finance Law required them to submit timely and accurate financial information. If they didn’t, he reminded them, they could be fined and arrested.

(At times, we must confess, we really like Ezzard.)

Now in the seat where Ezzard once sat, we have George Town MLA Roy McTaggart who, at least on paper, is perhaps the best qualified chairman ever to head the committee. He is the former managing partner of the KPMG audit firm and no doubt has the skills to speed read even the most complex financial documents.

What may be missing from Mr. McTaggart’s skill set, however, is a necessary willingness to put partisan politics aside (he was elected under the C4C banner but defected to the Progressives’ government) and hold his own political brethren to account.

We refer specifically to the recent PAC meeting which was convened to investigate the Cayman Islands auditor general’s outstanding, and astounding, report on government’s “travel and hospitality” spending, which totaled $8.6 million over three years.

That report contained enough fireworks to light up downtown George Town on the opening evening of Pirates Week, but to us — and we suspect to many readers — the most interesting items were the expenditures of then-Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who, like Mr. McTaggart, switched her allegiance to the People’s Progressive Movement after the 2013 elections. Soon thereafter, she became Speaker of the House, a post she still holds.

The auditor general revealed in his report that Ms. O’Connor-Connolly somehow managed to spend $34,000 in hotel charges on Cayman Brac, where she lives and has a home. He also raised questions (and eyebrows) when he referred to Ms. O’Connor-Connolly’s now infamous trip to Qatar, entourage in tow, to attend a postal conference where Cayman received a bronze award for the excellence of its postal service.

And yet, to date, neither Ms. O’Connor-Connolly nor her chief officer Kearney Gomez has been called before Mr. McTaggart’s committee to explain these expenditures.

Why not?

We will not pre-judge the appropriateness of these withdrawals from the public purse. While there may be perfectly plausible explanations, prima facie concerns certainly rise to the level of at least asking questions of the Speaker before an appropriate forum — and Ms. O’Connor-Connolly deserves an opportunity to respond openly and fully.

And so, we will close with a question of our own — not to Ms. O’Connor-Connolly but to Mr. McTaggart: Why are you not inviting Ms. O’Connor-Connolly to come before your committee so a thorough — and public — inquiry into these outstanding issues can take place? 

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  1. All very pertinent Mr Editor,
    It is extraordinary that the Speaker has not been called to account for her profligate spending. Actually, what is worse is that she has not felt the need to comment! That is shameful, perhaps she has none, or perhaps she has no answers in which case she should consider the honourable way which is to reimburse the part of the money that is not justified. And there is the problem, not much honour around!

  2. The minute Julie moved to the other side of the table she was out of harms way an no longer a target.

    34K in Hotel Bills on the Brac where you have a home….Really ?. This should be easy to explain if it was business related, if she can’t explain it she needs to pay for it, if she doesn’t then it becomes criminal. Simple enough

    This is exactly why these audits need to be focused on the entire government not just one administration.

    The CIG needs an internal collections department, that can focus on collecting for unauthorized credit card charges as well as interest and those that don’t fall into strict policies. They can also get to work on the millions of outstanding hospital bills. Actually this would probably be better handled by a private sector company that would get paid by collecting a commission on what they get back for the people.