Politics — 16 November 2012 — by Adele Ramos

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow said on Love FM this morning that the United Democratic Party (UDP) members on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) would support having public sessions, but, he added, there is no way that the review of audit reports will begin in 2012, as the current committee chairman, Julius Espat, has proposed.

Barrow suggested that the reports reviewing the performance of Government while under the administration of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) would not be “water under the bridge,” but the committee would have to probe into those reports as well.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Espat, Cayo South area rep for the PUP, said that the committee, which was constituted after the February 2012 general elections and which held its first meeting in October, only has a mandate to look at what is presented to them under their tenure. Espat had particularly proposed a review of the 2010-2011 report of the Auditor General, which, he said, is the only such report tabled during the tenure of the present Public Accounts Committee.

That report was scheduled to be discussed at a PAC meeting held on Monday afternoon, at the National Assembly; however, that meeting did not materialize because of differences over how the meeting should proceed.

One central issue in dispute is whether the meetings should be open to the public. The Opposition has cited section 72(3) of the standing orders of parliament, which indicates that the public has to have sufficient opportunity to present their views to the committee. Espat said that they would have to explore ways of ensuring the public can have adequate input in the process.

United Democratic Party area representative for Belmopan John Saldivar, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, issued a statement today saying that “…only by order of the House of Representatives or by resolution of, in this instance, the members of the Public Accounts Committee can the Committee conduct its proceedings in public.”

Saldivar went on to say that “…no Chairman or member of any committee can usurp the powers of the committee, in this instance, to declare a public meeting of the committee without the prior approval of its members.”

However, Espat contended that at their meeting held on October 1, from which Saldivar was absent, PAC members did agree to meet in public. Espat said that although it was not included in the minutes presented at Monday’s session, they had called on Government’s legal counsel Gian Ghandi, who indicated that as long as the members agree, the meetings could be public.

Ghandi told Amandala that this has to be done via resolution. Espat contends that that vote did take place, and when the question was put to members at the last meeting, no one objected.

One of the persons who were put out of the PAC meeting on Monday, on insistence by some PAC members that the meeting could not be open to the public, was PUP area representative for Toledo East Michael Espat. He told the media Tuesday that “what happened yesterday was a power play.” He said that the Auditor General’s report was tabled in the House of Representatives and it is “all over for everyone to see.”

Toledo West area rep for the PUP, Oscar Requeña, who was also put out of the meeting Monday, said that the PUP’s parliamentary caucus in the south has been meeting with citizens, and it is his constituents who requested that he attend the PAC meeting on their behalf, but a special branch detective was called to remove him from the meeting.

Requeña said that he was totally disappointed when he heard Saldivar speak about taking the audit reviews back to the era before 2008 – the PUP administration. It is time to correct the wrongs and move ahead, he added.

The area rep said that there are 53 neglected villages in Toledo, yet the government can spend without having to account for the spending.

PAC chairman Julius Espat said that he will attempt to review the minutes of the October 1 meeting on Wednesday, so that what was decided on the questions of public meetings could be resolved, and he will propose that the committee meets again on Monday, December 3, 2012.

“Hopefully we can agree to move forward,” he added.

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