BELIZE CITY, Wed. July 13, 2022
Area representative for the Albert Division and chairperson of the Joint Public Accounts Committee (JPAC), Hon. Tracy Panton, has responded to a joint letter sent by four social partner senators, who in that letter called for a meeting of the JPAC to be convened as soon as possible. Yesterday, when interviewed by local media, Panton pointed out that she did not receive a copy of the letter directly, but was only made aware of the scathing message from the senators via the media.
“I’m a little bit perturbed, considering what I thought was a relationship of mutual respect amongst colleagues, that a letter of that nature would have to be shared with the local media without ensuring that a copy had been received by the chair, giving me an appropriate time to respond,” Panton stated.
She acknowledged the fact that a meeting was to be held in April, but noted that life-changing experiences for her entire family (including the death of her husband, Herbert Panton) forced her to take some time off in the months of April and May.
“So indeed, a meeting is overdue of the Joint Public Accounts Committee, and it is certainly in the interest of all parties for such a meeting to be convened in short order,” Panton said.
Panton went on to say that she has since written to the Clerk of the National Assembly after seeing a copy of the letter and that in that piece of correspondence she suggested two dates as early as next week on which the JPAC meeting could be held. She pointed out that three meetings have been convened during her chairmanship this year—one at which the JPAC met with the outgoing Auditor General, Dorothy Bradley, and a meeting that was held with the Accountant General. She said that the meeting which had been scheduled for April was to be held with Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, but he could not attend because of a court matter. She further noted that she is hoping that the JPAC can agree to apply pressure on the government to expedite its selection of a new Auditor General.
“We still do not have an Auditor General, to the best of my knowledge. I checked with my colleague the Minister of Public Service last week, in fact, to get a sense of when an Auditor General will be instituted or if any candidates have been recommended to the post, and his response to me was, not as yet. The work of the Auditor General’s office is instructive, and instrumental to the work of the JPAC; we share a symbiotic relationship in that sense, so I am hoping that one of the things that can come out of the meeting that I hope can happen in short order, is a call for the government to put in place an Auditor General and to ensure that the Auditor General’s office is functioning with the greatest level of effectiveness and efficiency so that we have these reports to review,” Panton said.
Panton further pointed out that no new report of concern has been issued by the office of the Auditor General in this parliamentary term and she estimated that the last Auditor General’s report tabled in the House of Representatives was issued in 2012.
“While there still [might] be some merit in us looking at that report, to find out how the system can be improved, I also think it is an imperative for us to look at current public expenditure. You know, I think about what’s the extent of our national COVID-19 relief program, for example, I think required some review and input of the Auditor General and the Joint Public Accounts Committee, for example. So I have certainly no reservation at all in convening a meeting and look forward to doing so in short order,” Panton said
In an interview today, the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, also commented on the vacant post of the Auditor General. He said that during a conversation he had with Dorothy Bradley, the former Auditor General, she hinted at being willing to occupy the post until a suitable candidate is chosen. Finding a suitable candidate has been difficult for the government, the PM said.