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The problems with the Public Accounts Committee

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Julius Espat says he has given up in trying to get the Government representatives to attend meetings.  The committee is made up of six members; four from the Government and two from the Opposition.

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Julius Espat says he has given up in trying to get the Government representatives to attend meetings.  The committee is made up of six members; four from the Government and two from the Opposition.  From the Government’s side the members are Patrick Faber, John Saldivar, Frank Papa Mena and Tracy Panton.  Espat noted that the committee had met to analyze the 2012/2013 Auditor General’s report; witnesses were brought in.  Since October 2018 the Government representatives have not attended any of the committee meetings.

Julius Espat, PAC, Chairman: “The problem is that because it is dominated by government participants if they don’t want meetings to be held they just don’t appear and then you don’t have quorum and therefore you can’t continue with that. We have had problems with that in the past, we have had many problems because this government has refused to accept or respect the rule of law. I listened to Patrick Faber the other day I think he was on your morning show on Love FM where he is “Oh we will make sure that the PAC works when we get into government and we will make sure that it is heard and the chairman of the PAC is too aggressive and the chairman of the PAC is this and that.” but he refused to say the truth and the truth is that they have done everything, every single thing in their power to make sure that the reports of PAC, and only one we have done, are not published. And so we have gone through that they don’t come to meetings, we have gone through that I have gone to the media to express the frustrations that – I’ve gone through all that and yet when we got to the level of handing, and the report that I gave was in reality very non political. We weren’t going on a witch hunt ,we weren’t trying to pin point any minister’s wrong doing even though the mere fact that those two ministers sat in those Public Accounts Hearings was unethical because we were listening to things that were pertaining to their ministries. For example we had to look and analyze the audit of the Ministry of Education and the person that’s analyzing it is there in the meeting as one of the member so anytime something would come up about the Ministry of Education he would go on on his long you know how he is “how great they have been doing.” but that’s not the case. You never have somebody that you’re investigating being the investigator and the same thing applies to the other and they’ve refused to recuse themselves so even that we had to try to accept just to have the motion continue. And now they have not even decided to respond, I have made up my mind and the party has made up our mind that the only thing that can be done is lets wait for election and lets form government and lets make sure that we depoliticize the Public Accounts Committee, make sure that no political party not even the one in government or the one in opposition has a super majority to control what comes out of that that’s why we’re bringing in the social partners, we need to make sure that this accountability and good governance issue is taken seriously in our country. If not the next government that comes will also fail us if they don’t implement these reforms that I believer are extremely necessary.”

While the committee has no authority to establish policies or prosecute, it does have the power to review  and analyse the spending of the Government of Belize and the budgets.  Espat told Love News that with the Government’s refusal to cooperate it is the people and the public purse that are being jilted and cheated.

Julius Espat, PAC, Chairman: “What you’re losing ? You’re losing resources. Instead of the resources reaching the people where they’re supposed to be reached it goes and disappears elsewhere that’s why if you’ve noticed we have not had a real audit done of many areas that’s why also governments take certain groups and take them out of the purview of the Auditor General. For example the BIL the Belize Infrastructure Limited spends they way it wants to spend which is still your money but yet does not have to fall under the auspices of the Auditor General for her to go in and do an audit. But we get to the stage where even if the Auditor General does an audit the government organizations or the government ministries don’t cooperate with her, her complaint has always been that the information that she requires she cannot get and even if she gets access to areas where it should be it disappears or if it is computerized the files are not there, or they just tell her “we don’t have it.” We have had meetings where government officials way up to the Financial Secretary have made public statements that they are aware that this is going on and nothing is done. So by not having PAC and we’re not having PAC right now because it’s not functioning corruption increases because then the person that sets policy and spends your money can do it in any way that they want and there is nobody to tell them that it is wrong or it is right or how to prove it and so any government in my opinion that refuses to have a well functioning PAC is a government that knows that they’re hiding things and don’t want anybody to be able to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime we’re getting close to $4 billion dollars in debt, we’re dealing with an economy right now that is the worst it has ever been, we’re dealing with a COVID  situation that will even make it worse and maybe we’re not feeling it that much right now but it will come, there is no way we can move ahead if we don’t deal with corruption. We can’t deal with policy if you don’t deal with corruption. You can’t deal with incentivizing the private sector or economy if you don’t deal with corruption. You can’t deal with the bureaucracy in government if you don’t deal with corruption. You can’t deal with every day life the way we stand if you don’t address corruption so every proposal that any candidate or any party makes has to be corruption like it has to encircle it because every decision that you make that has to be the number one issue that we address any future government has to be serious about that and to deal with corruption you have to be willing to make reform. Why are we insisting on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result ? We’re hoping that a Messiah will come and solve all our problems? That won’t happen it’s collectively we have to do it on our own and set systems in place that allow people or don’t allow people to be able to take what is ours. You have to understand when a politician takes money from the coffers in whatever way he does he’s taking it directly or indirectly away from all the residents of this country.”

Espat went on to tell our newsroom that over the years he has sought multiple avenues in trying to get the Government to attend the PAC meetings in order to review how the country’s money is being spent and how contracts are being awarded.  In one instance Espat had tabled a motion in the House of Representatives to change up the way the Public Accounts Committee is set up with a plan to have input from the social partners.

Julius Espat, PAC, Chairman: “I didn’t just request I made a motion in the House of Representatives to be able to restructure PAC by bringing in the social partners. So what we were proposing was to have the same members of government, the four; the same members of opposition, two and bring in  at the time it was three social partners. Your social partners would have been your senators and so it would have been a bicameral committee and this is not something that I invented anyway it is something that exists, Australia is a clear example where you have bicameral committees and he ridiculed it as he normally does and it didn’t pass. Countries like Belize that don’t entertain the Public Accounts Committee or entertain accountability and transparency or god governance are countries that are left behind with huge debts, with fore mounting corruption and sadly that’s where Belize is. Look at the PetroCaribe money that was close to $700 million dollars, I wrote a letter as Chairman of PAC to the Auditor General at the time to do request that an audit be done of the PetroCaribe funds, her response at that time is that it couldn’t be done because there was no financial resources, they never had enough staff whatever the reason was and we have been requesting of government himself the Prime Minister countless times I have gone to the House of Representatives requesting that he does an audit of the PetroCaribe funds. If an audit is done I can guarantee you and the nation of Belize that you will see that the total amount of money that was supposed to have been spent was not spent in accordance with the law. In fact we have taken the government to court, the mere fact that they were borrowing the money illegally, the mere fact that they were spending the money illegally just by means of committing a parliamentary procedure shows you to the level and extent that they will go to hide the reality. So answer to your question yes if you get into all those contracts that are given you will find that there are issues with it. There is absolutely nobody that can convince me that there is only one contractor in Belize that has the capability of getting all these contracts. You have so many contractors it’s just that like any technicality they use what they need to use to be able to find a way to be able to have this gentleman get all the contracts – maybe not all maybe 90%. So it is important. In the United States and other developing countries what they do now is they make it a little less political the overnight aspect of it, they tend to form NGOs but their laws are very strict. For example if you request information from any public person in the United States they have a certain time frame when they have to be able to give you back that information if not they can be taken to court and they have been taken to court. We need to get serious in Belize. We need to stop complaining. While we are complaining the politicians are fleecing us and so we need to get serious, the NGOs need to be created or we as a country need to pass laws to make sure that what is on the books and the rules and regulations that we have in place are carried out.”