The National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday decided to deny a Communities Ministry request to suspend its examination of regional accounts.
PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali, at the resumption of a hearing yesterday after two hours of deliberations, stated that after consideration of the letter sent to him by the Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Communities, the committee would be continuing with the examination of the accounts.
Last week, PS Emil McGarrell wrote to the PAC requesting that the examination of the regions’ accounts be suspended to allow the Regional Executive Officers (REOs) more time to prepare for the sessions.
PAC member Juan Edghill, who had released the letter to the media, had argued that the officers had all been assisted in their preparations by the Auditor General, Accountant General and Financial Secretary.
Minister Ronald Bulkan, expounding on the reasons for the correspondence, opined that the committee had been taking a “partisan” approach to the examination of the accounts.
When reminded that several government parliamentarians sit on the nine-member committee and, therefore, have control over the nature of its work, Bulkan said the PAC has not had full representation of government members at meetings and that the whole line of questioning and the demeanour adopted by opposition members was suspect.
He further opined that the officers were in some cases “ambushed” since “some of this examination relates to period prior to their employment and questions not contained in Audit Report.”
REOs over the past few months have been sent away from the hearings before the examination of their region’s accounts could be completed, usually after they and their team failed to provide satisfactory responses to questions posed by members of the PAC.
Less than half hour after Ali’s announcement yesterday, members of the team representing the Region 10 administration were excused from the chambers after the REO was unable to respond to certain questions posed by the committee.
The REO, Orrin Gordon, who was at the time being questioned on contracts awarded by the region in 2016, had told Ali that he was not in possession of the information being asked for.
He then stated that what was being provided was what was requested on the last occasion, to which Ali responded that the region had been asked to bring all documentation.
“I’m feeling for the PS,” Ali stated, before asking that the Region Four team replace the delegation to allow them time to go through the paragraphs in the Auditor General’s report before being called again. However, the examination of Region Four’s accounts lasted until the end of yesterday’s session, which ended just before 4 pm.