Public accounts committee conference an eye openerBy: WANJA NJUGUNA
WINDHOEK – When the Effective Public Financial Accountability Conference of the Southern African Development Community Organisation of Public Accounts Committees (SADCOPAC) and Eastern African Association of Public Accounts Committees (EAAPAC) ended in Windhoek recently, the increasing importance of these committees in the participating nations’ good governance, transparency and financial accountability could not have been more pronounced.
As citizens of the various countries not only in Africa but across the world continue to demand these values, none other than Namibia's Speaker of National Assembly, Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab concurred. During his opening remarks, Gurirab said that PACs play a very critical role in promoting democracy, good governance and accountability in State finances and public interest in their respective regions.
Discussing the financial squeeze in the west that is impacting on the developing nations, Gurirab said, “Governments in the West that we have viewed as financial powerhouses have become beggars, looking to China as their coffers run empty,” adding that the dwindling of financial resources worldwide negatively affected developing nations as demand for their exports reduced. “Like many other developing nations, Namibia is already experiencing a budget deficit while developmental programs are standing with open mouths like chicks waiting on the mother to feed them,” he said. “We therefore have to carefully balance the scarce financial resources against the pressure for spending wisely on basic needs of the people and thus the importance of PACs,” he added.
Gurirab decried corruption as an international menace, saying that Parliaments need to oversee the Executive on financial spending to cut on financial crimes. “The Office of the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Anti-Corruption Commissions must all work together to tighten the noose around the necks of the culprits and bring them to book without delay,” he emphasized.
Namibia’s finance minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila concurred, adding that transparency and accountability are indispensable for the efficient functioning of any country and for promoting economic growth and fostering social well being. “To achieve this, information about the government’s fiscal policy, sources of revenue, spending priorities, funding of the deficit and the public debt situation should be accessible,” she said.
SADCOPAC chairperson who is also South Africa’s PAC chair, Fish Mahlalela highlighted the importance of the two groups. “SADCOPAC and EAAPAC were created in 2003 and 2004 respectively as permanent institutions, in order to promote mutual support, foster the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience among PACs on the oversight function with the overall objective to contribute to good governance and transparency,” Mahlalela explained.
Speaking to The Namibian, Hon Usutuaije Maamberua, head of the Namibian PAC said that a major concern was the improvement of Accounts Committees and their responsibilities. “We need to improve cooperation of he various accounts committees so that all the countries can work together to bring financial accountability and good governance in our different governments,” Maamberua said.
SADCOPAC was represented by Zambia, South Africa (Chair of Conference), Namibia (Deputy Chair of Conference), Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Botswana while representatives from EAAPAC were Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Burundi. South Sudan, the newest kid on the block, attended the meeting for the first time. It was represented by Hon. Gocmakuac Moyor and Hon Mrs Awut Deng Achil of the Parliament of South Sudan. Speaking to The Namibian, Achil who was head of the delegation said, “As we build a new nation, we have many challenges such as establishing laws, capacity building as well as coping with other problems in South Sudan and we will try and implement what we learn here when we go back home.'
When the meeting started, the members looked at the progress of the Arusha 2011 Resolutions todate. It was highlighted that most member states had managed to implement most of the resolution with some of the successes being performance audit done for the first time in Botswana, PAC meetings now open to the public and media, Tanzania's recommendation for redeployment of six ministers implicated in financial misconduct, while in Uganda, some Ministers were asked to resign due to financial misconduct. From Swaziland, Hon Thuli Dladla indicated that performance audit was conducted in Swaziland for the first time.
Some of the challenges noted were funding to most PACs, though PAC in Zambia indicated that they have adequate funds to effectively run their programmes, the Auditor-Generals in countries such as Ethiopia not being independent, a communication strategy for the two groups not yet developed, lack of follow-up on the implementation of PAC recommendations and lack of support staff hindering effectiveness and efficiency of PACs in countries such as Mozambique and Swaziland.
Recommendations given included, capacity building for PAC's, speedy scrutiny of reports, involvement of civil society and engaging the media, while Government response to issues PAC raised should be tabled within six months.
In an interview with The Namibian, the longest serving PAC member who is also chairman of Tanzania’s PAC, Hon John M. Cheyo, lauded the work of the two committees saying that PACs have made a major difference in the way governments deal with the thorny financial issues in their countries. “When we started these meetings, a number of governments were reluctant to implement what the committees recommended but now, it has become prudent that for governments to run smoothly, the recommendations of these committees must be respected,” Cheyo, who has been Tanzania’s PAC chairman for the past 12 years, said.
The Tanzanian Mp said that every country now respects the two major laws that deal with money - Finance which raises funds and Appropriation which deals with who is allowed to do what with the money. “Today, Permanent Secretaries can no longer spend more than is allocated to them,” he said adding that the value of networking in the meetings where members of parliament are able to compare notes, establish benchmarks and best practices has been very helpful to the various countries representatives. “Today, we no longer have countries changing their PACs every few months – now, atleast results are seen as PACs are established to atleast work for a full 5 year term of the parliament in many countries,” Cheyo said.
It was clear that there had been major successes in the past year as at the end of the meeting, unlike 17 resolutions made in Arusha, the two groups came up with only seven resolutions, dabbed, Namibia Resolutions while every country represented agreed on action plans that they would implement on return to their respective countries. The two groups agreed that each jurisdiction was to implement the resolutions within a time frame that suits it. They will give updates on the implementation that they have done and challenges they faced while implementing the resolution.
To facilitate a better system of dealing with problems that PACs face in their home country, the meeting attendants were trained by Beverly Wenger-Trayner through an increasingly popular program called Community of Practice where teams are brought together to learn from their peers on how to deal with similar problems. “The new program that has become very popular now in training these kinds of groups helps the learners to not only learn from their peers but to know how to implement the same in their respective countries.
Across the world, there are many countries that have PACs and the roles may differ but accountability and financial transparency in the country's governments is at the top of their agenda. In UK for example, The Committee of Public Accounts is appointed by the House of Commons to examine "the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted to Parliament to meet the public expenditure, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the Committee may think fit. In the current committee, there are members from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats. The Chair, Rt Hon Margaret Hodge is an MP from the Labour Party.
The meeting was sponsored by among others, World Bank Institute and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).