Hon. Julius Espat walks out over Auditor General’s Report

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Updated: August 18, 2017

Tabled today during the Sitting of the House of Representatives was the 2012-2013 Auditor General’s Report. As we have been reporting, the audit conducted focuses on several government ministries and departments including the Ministry of Works, Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Education and the Department of Sales Tax. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno, described the document as damning against the Barrow Administration. And today the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat attempted to speak on the report before being stopped by the House Speaker. Here’s how that exchange went:

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I rise today on a matter of public concern and that is the report of the Auditor General for the year 2012-2013 I want to make some comments on it.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“Uhm sorry Honourable Member that was referred to committee.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“Yes ma’am but I am the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and I can refer to it.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“Yes but we haven’t had the report from you yet.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“No ma’am but I am just making some comments in reference to it I am not reporting on it.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“But that is unusual isn’t it?”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“Last year it was allowed even though I was kicked out it was allowed initially.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“Thanks for reminding me Honourable.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“Yes ma’am and I wouldn’t like that to be repeated.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“Me neither but at the end of the day as we’ve discussed before….”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“Yes ma’am but this is the only opportunity that opposition members have to be able to show transparency by means of ventilating the issues.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“Honourable member.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

Yes ma’am.

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“We know the house rules.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I want to see the house rules that says I cannot speak on the auditor……”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“We referred it to you. You are the chair right? Can we move on from that?”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I can’t ma’am because this is exactly what we need to do.”

Said Musa, Representative, Fort George:

“The fact that a paper was laid earlier today does not negate the right of a member to raise the matter if there are matters in that paper that of public concern and indeed this has always been the practice in this house; yes it cannot be debated at this stage but it can be raised on the adjournment.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“Member the matter was sent to the PSE and we also have our standing order 40 we can’t anticipate anything we have to allow due process and wait on the reports from the committees and I’m kindly asking for that process to take place so that we can avoid any further issue on this matter.”

John Briceno, Opposition Leader:

“Under section 91 as the general authority of the speaker you can also give the leeway to allow the Honourable Member of Cayo South to speak on such an important matter the entire country is expecting us to say something about this today because they are just getting bits and pieces of the rank corruption that has been taking place under this government.”

Speaker of the House, Laura Tucker-Longsworth:

“Honourable Opposition Leader you are also aware that these matters have to have permission prior to the meetings I am kindly asking you to adhere to the rules of the house.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“Madam Speaker if I may I am extremely disappointed on your decision. But I would just like to inform you that a letter was sent to you this morning and that I will be convening public hearings on the Public Accounts Committee based on the report madam speaker because this issue has to be ventilated the Belizean people have to get to the bottom of it and it is a sad day today that again we are going down the road, the undemocratic road when you are not allowing members of this legislature to be able to ventilate the issues that are hurting us.”

Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister:

“I have to protest that is very unfair for the member to suggest that because you are regulating the business of the house in accordance with the standing orders that you are being democratic lord man look at what the standing orders say all proposed legislation messages, petitions, reports shall go to the respective house committees and under the PSE it tells you Auditor General’s reports must go to the PSE you can’t debate something before it has gone to the PSE he has already announced publicly that he will summon a meeting of the PSE hallelujah and that is where everything will be; you see and you have to behave like… anyway .I take offence that he should accuse you of being undemocratic.”

And after that back and forth, Espat walked out of the House Sitting. He walked out alone. None of his colleagues walked out with him, something he expected he said.

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“The rules do not say that you cannot speak on something that is tabled it is quite clear in the adjournment it says that any member of the house can speak on any issue of public importance and this in my opinion is one of the major important issue that is being highlighted right now.”

Reporter:

“Okay I want to ask you what’s important in there but one second, why when you walked out your party did not follow you?”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I am not the leader of the party.”

Reporter:

“But sir it’s an old tradition in the party if you touch one you touch all.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I don’t follow the old traditions I believe that we have to make drastic changes and I stand for what I believe in.”

Reporter:

“You did signal them to follow you”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“No I did not.”

Reporter:

“You seem to have.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I asked the party leader what would happen next I didn’t signal him I can’t signal him.”

Reporter:

“But you expected them to follow you?”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“They didn’t follow the me the last time and they haven’t now so I don’t expect anything from anybody.”

Reporter: “But sir.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“Are we going to speak on a serious issue or are we going to play games?”

Reporter:

“But sir what concerns me that you are a representative of the people and you are showing serial behaviour.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“What is a serial behaviour? Standing up for your rights?”

Reporter: “That you are behaving like a bad child.”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:   “No.”

Reporter: “You have to play by the rules I don’t want to be unkind honourable sir?”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“Jules if standing up for what you believe in, if standing up for something that is undemocratic, if standing up to a corrupt government is acting like a bad child then maybe I am a bad child and I have no fear in saying that and I have no shame in saying that that is the role that I play as an opposition member that is the role that I should play as a member of the PAC and that is the role that the people of Cayo South elected me to do, to represent them and be their voice. So I humbly disagree with you and I am doing my role I am doing my job in a civil way you see this time it’s been different.”

Reporter:

“So even the way it ended the last time were you kind of assuming that this would have happened?”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I assume everything negative when it pertains to this United Democratic Party.”

Reporter:

“Sir but your MO as we’ve seen in previous occasions if you don’t get it your way you walk out in other instances you get carried ;you don’t see something wrong with that?”

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I see something wrong with Belizeans not standing up for their rights. I see things that reporters are not reporting on things objectively. I see things that leaders are being paid to do their jobs and sit and do nothing I have a problem with that.”

According to Espat, the report has revealed glaring financial irregularities that Government must answer to.

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Julius Espat:

“I believe the Auditor General has not gone far enough. I believe that you have the biggest budget in all the ministries the Ministry of Finance that has not been audited at all not even mentioned on section with the GST was mentioned I believe that even the analysis that was done in the Ministry of Works is insignificant you’re talking about $1.2 million dollars being lost when they only analyzed $1.7 million. So of $1.7 million dollars the Auditor General is reporting that $1.2 million has been lost as revenue and that sends up a lot of signals because the Ministry of Works main expenditure is not the purchase of tires it is the awarding of contracts throughout the entire country and no mention has been made of that and no analysis has been made of that and if you can find an error of 70% of $1.7 million dollars then what will you find when you analyze the rest so there is many issues in here that I believe have to be ventilated I’m not pointing the fingers to any personality I am pointing the fingers at a system that is entrenched in corruption and the Auditor General for whatever reason has not found it important to go into all these details but we will have to invite her to a meeting for her to express why it is that all the other information has not been deal with especially the Ministry of Finance and that to me is alarming. The Ministry of Education is showing you that we are spending money without any care for the districts there is not equitable distribution of funds it is very clear here we knew that from the beginning I experienced that as a representative from rural communities and it is obvious here that it is not reported that is just one of the irregularities and another glaring irregularity is that all decisions are made based on political affiliation, it is here again so that anything that goes out to a large majority goes to UDP representatives and their cronies. I see that as unfair and I don’t understand why that can’t be ventilated or discussed and I don’t understand why the reporters are cynical about that. I really don’t understand that and I am trying my best to show the Belizean people that we can have a better country, we can get out of this recession.”