Last Updated on Saturday, 1 April 2023, 20:52 by Denis Chabrol
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Gail Teixeira on Saturday indicated that the work of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was stuck because information for 2017-2018 was unavailable and former top accounting officers fail to show up at meetings of that bipartisan parliamentary body.
“Although a lot of work has been done with regards to the 2017/2018 combined report; due to the unavailability of documentation and non-attendance by a number of former Permanent Secretaries and former Regional Executive Officers, this report has not been concluded,” she said in a statement.
Ms Teixeira said those observations have repeatedly come up at each hearing of the 2017/2018 and now the 2019 reports. “The
examination of any audited reports requires not only the presence of accounting officers who held office in 2015-2020 but also their timely provision of documents and answers so that examination can be thorough in the national interest,” she added.
Asked whether that meant that the PAC process was stuck indefinitely if those documents and former officials were not forthcoming, Ms Teixeira said that Committee would have to decide. “After good faith efforts to find documents and have relevant officers attend, the report would be drafted to state what transpired,” Ms Teixeira, who is also a PAC member, told Demerara Waves Online News.
The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance’s position came amid persistent concerns and condemnations by the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) of the government members’ refusal to attend PAC meetings, resulting in the absence of a minimum number of members.
Using its simple majority, the government has changed the PAC rules to make it mandatory for at least two government and two opposition members as well as the Chairman to be present before PAC meetings could go ahead rather than two members, regardless of party affiliation, and the Chairman.
With several meetings not held since the new quorum rules, the opposition said its predicted accurately that government would scuttle PAC meetings to block accountability of spending by the incumbent People’s Progressive Party Civic from 2020 to present. However, government said the committee was yet to consider that period. “The PAC has not reached the audited reports for the PPP/C Government’s term of office yet. Therefore, the argument being peddled that the PPP/C MPs nor the PPPC government want to scrutinize these audited reports is bizarre,” she said.
Unofficial records show that PAC meetings have been cancelled or not held 10 times since that committee’s quorum rules were changed in April 2022, a situation that has drawn stinging criticism by Committee Chairman and opposition parliamentarian, Jermaine Figueira. “The deliberate derailing and stymieing of the work of the PAC by the government is unacceptable, and it is time for the people of Guyana to demand the accountability they deserve. The government must be held accountable for their actions and lack of commitment to the responsibilities they were elected to uphold,” he has said.
For her part, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance released figures showing that during the current 12th Parliament, 51 meetings were held from December 28, 2020 to March 6, 2023 with ministers Edghill and Gail Teixeira having been excused eight times and absent twice.
She also released figures indicating that during the 11th Parliament, 44 meetings were held from September 9, 2015 to August 6, 2018 with then government minister Volda Lawrence having been excused 12 times and then government minister excused 23 times. The records also show that during the 10th Parliament, 57 PAC meetings were held from March 16, 2012 to November 3, 2014. At that time, no government ministers sat on the PAC.
Minister Teixeira said the PAC in the current 12th Parliament has a heavier agenda than both the 10th and 11th Parliaments, as it had to finalise the work done in the 11th Parliament on the PAC report on the combined 2015/2016 Annual Audited Reports, which was tabled and
adopted in the National Assembly in 2022 as well as address the Annual Audited Reports of the years 2017, 2018, 2019 which were tabled at the end of 2020 due to the No Confidence Motion, the 14 months during which Guyana had no lawful government, the 2020 elections and the five month delay before the election results were declared. “The PAC is, therefore, dealing with a backlog not of its making but due to circumstances beyond its control. The Annual Audited Reports for 2020 and 2021 have also been laid on time and are before the PAC,” she added.