The Area Representative for Cayo South, Julius Espat has been quite vocal on many national concerns; perhaps even more so than the People’s United Party. Of all the concerns expressed by Espat since his election to the House of Representatives the one he seems most passionate about is the Public Accounts Committee whose role is to examine how monies are being spent by the Government of Belize and conduct forensic audit on specific areas. Following much debate in the House of Representatives, demands by the Belize National Teachers Union and public appeals to the government, Love News asked Espat to brief us on where we are with the Public Accounts Committee.
“The way the Public Accounts Committee is structured right now government has a majority in it therefore the Ministers that one wants to be able to do an analysis of do not agree, do not support and do not vote for that idea to be done and therefore nothing will happen. The Prime Minister also after the teachers were pressuring decided that they would do the restructuring of the Public Accounts Committee based on his proposal which was a ridiculous one, it was one to increase the numbers of government ministers on the committee and include some social partners as a token. Well that is absolutely not acceptable because it goes back to the same thing. Transparency and oversight has nothing to do with if you are the majority in parliament. Oversight has to do with the ability to have checks and balances, that you can have people analyzing if what you have done is right or wrong and we have an opportunity because our parliament is set up in such a way that we already have social partners in parliament meaning that we have senators that are social partners and so we were saying invite the social partners to be a part of the structure and give a combination whereas the government would not have the majority and it’s not that the opposition would have the majority, the opposition would be far less, we would still remain as two. We were proposing that government still remains as four and we were inviting the social partners to have three so if you would join the social partners three with the opposition’s two on a specific situation you can have something, you can vote that you would analyze. You have to understand that we are not voting to take anybody to jail, we are only voting so that we can do a forensic audit on a ministry, it is a simple situation but if government would be right and would be doing something positive then all government would have to do would be to convince one social partner of the three and then the vote would be theirs. So you are telling me that government is afraid that they have the large majority and they would only have to convince one of the social partners to do something that they agree with and they are afraid of that? That is where are right now, so this proposed restructuring of having increased numbers in the committee but yet government having more power is absolutely ridiculous.”
Espat says that the promises made by Prime Minister Dean Barrow is just for optics and nothing more.
“The Prime Minister goes on his stage when he is in the House of Representatives and makes lots of promises and you can go back not the last house meeting but two house meetings back when the Honorable Requena got up and asked him for some culverts for his division I don’t know if you recall and the Prime Minister got up and said “how many you want one or two and I will have it to you as of Monday of next week.” and up to this week the Honorable Requena has not gotten anything and I got up afterwards and told the Prime Minister that we will not beg on our knees because that is what he wants and it is a show but at the end of the day nothing happens. The idea of the public accounts committee has absolutely nothing to do with the United Democratic Party. The idea of the Public Accounts Committee is something that is of utmost important for us to drive this economy forward meaning the people have to gain confidence in how we are handling our affairs and we are not handling our affairs in an accountable and transparent way.”
In October 2015, Prime Minister Barrow stated in an interview, quote, “I make no apologies for saying right from the start that I do not support a Public Accounts Committee on which the government is in the minority, that’s not the way it operates in any of the Commonwealth models that I have looked at. I do acknowledge that it should be broader based and that, in fact, the social partners should sit on the committee but I will never concede that we need to give way on the issue of majority composition of the Public Accounts Committee. ” End of quote.