Highlights — 04 February 2014 — by Adele Ramos

Julius Espat, chairman of the Belize Public Accounts Committee (PAC), is off to Trinidad this week for a regional meeting at which he will make an effort to raise the profile of the problems Belize has been experiencing with the PAC, in the hope that this would bring regional pressure on the Government of Belize to implement changes that will give more oversight to the social partners – the unions, the private sector, and the churches/civil society.

Espat will participate in a conference titled, “Strengthening Parliamentary Budget Oversight in the Caribbean – Phase 2”, being convened in Port of Spain, Trinidad, from February 5-6, 2014.

ParlAmericas, the hemispheric organization composed of the national legislatures of the 35 independent states of the Americas, is organizing the event. ParlAmericas says that the objectives of the meeting are to build on the discussions about parliamentary budget oversight mechanisms and other key issues of concern to Public Accounts Committees (PACs) which took place during ParlAmericas’ Workshop 05; to provide a space for parliamentarians and Auditors General from the Caribbean to continue sharing best practices; and to enhance practical skills related to auditing.

Espat, who has been asked to speak on the first day of the conference, told us that he hopes to use the forum as a platform to raise the profile of the challenges faced by Belize’s PAC.

The first major presentation at the event will be an overview of budgetary cycle and a discussion by Guyana’s PAC chair Carl Greenidge.

Later on Wednesday, Espat will join his counterparts from Trinidad and Jamaica, as well as a member of Barbados’ PAC, on a panel which will look at “Challenges and Practices: Public Accounts Committees in ‘Small’ and ‘Large’ Legislatures.”

More specifically, the presenters will look at the existing practices of functioning PACs, and reference will be made to international guidance on PAC effectiveness as well as leading practices and challenges.

A discussion paper demonstrates that the kinds of problems Belize faces with the PAC are also experienced in sister states.

“In some jurisdictions, the Leader of the Opposition serves as the PAC Chair. This can increase the level of partisanship and reduce the incentive for the PAC Chair to exercise a strong leadership role in the committee. In a recent case, the Leader of the Opposition in his role as PAC Chair was required to preside over the review of audit reports that pertained to his tenure as Prime Minister,” the paper noted, in detailing the many challenges which undermine the PAC.

Espat, the Cayo South area representative for the Opposition People’s United Party, is still insisting that Belize’s PAC needs to reformed, to ensure inclusion of the social partners. Espat’s proposal calls for a new constitution that would give the social partners three of seven seats.

Currently, only elected parliamentarians sit on PAC: two from the Opposition and four from the ruling party. The Opposition gets to chair the PAC, except in cases such as the ongoing meetings, which the Opposition has chosen to boycott; in which case, the ruling party chairs the meetings.

Espat also takes issue with the ongoing PAC meetings, at which reports are reviewed over the course of a few hours. He said that this is merely being done so that the ruling party could say that they held those reviews, but there is need for the meetings to have credibility by including the social partners as a part of the review committee.

He said that had the PAC been functioning the way it should be, they could also be investigating the Penner Passport Scandal.

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