If the PAAC is to remain useful...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

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The report in today's edition that the Government has added four of its parliamentarians to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) is cause for concern.


First is the secretive manner in which the new members were added, and second, the chairman's concern that the committee's mandate of oversight is taking second place to partisan defence of party positions.


According to Mr Edmund Bartlett, the PAAC chairman, he was not informed of the decision to add the four new members -- Messrs Damion Crawford, Andre Hylton, Winston Green and Jolyan Silvera.


"I just turned up to chair the meeting two Wednesdays ago and there were four new members," Mr Bartlett is quoted as saying.


We are told that the clerk to the House, Mrs Heather Cooke, had to be called into the meeting to explain the change to the chairman.


That, we hold, smacks of disrespect and is simply sloppy. There is no excuse for making such a decision without the courtesy of at least discussing it with the chair who, based on his response to our reporter, would not have had a problem with the decision.


Our greater concern, though, lies in Mr Bartlett's worry that the PAAC members seem to be focusing less on oversight and more on "defending" positions taken by their respective political parties on the issues that come before the committee, or seeking answers to questions to do with their respective constituencies.


Readers will remember that the PAAC was established to monitor Government spending. As is pointed out in our story today, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips had announced last May that the role of the PAAC would be expanded, in terms of its parliamentary oversight, to ensure that expenditure is in accordance with that approved by Parliament.


The PAAC is also required to review the status of the medium-term economic programme, the progress on meeting fiscal targets -- including the fiscal deficit/surplus and the primary surplus, the resource and borrowing needs for the remainder of the current fiscal year, and the implications for the specified targets for the ensuing fiscal year in the context of the medium-term economic programme.


That remit, we hold, is most important and should not be sidelined by partisan concerns. For, as Mr Bartlett quite correctly pointed out, if the committee is to remain useful, it must fulfil its duty as watchdog and not give excuses for the inappropriate use of public resources, or reward inefficiency.


It appears, though, that by adding four of its MPs to the committee, the Government hopes to ensure that any questions raised about its performance are drowned out by its majority.


If we are wrong in arriving at this conclusion, we would be happy to be corrected.


In the meantime, we hope that the members of the PAAC will appreciate the fact that they have a serious role in ensuring good governance. As such, they should think national, and rise above political partisanship.


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