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Aug 17, 2017

Public Accounts Chair Julius Espat Says Report Must Be Ventilated

Friday’s meeting of the House of Representatives in Belmopan should see the tabling of the 2012-2013 Auditor General’s Report on which we have been reporting all week.  It is all intended to be ventilated by the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Opposition member Julius Espat. But he is not terribly impressed with the quality and quantity of the auditors’ work, as he told News Five’s Aaron Humes in this report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

At first glance, the Auditor General’s Report for 2012-2013 would seem to be a complete review of the activity of the Government of Belize for that financial year. But chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Cayo South area representative Julius Espat, says a lot was left out.

 

Julius Espat

Julius Espat, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

“What is alarming here in this report is that the ministry with the largest budget is the Ministry of Finance, and that is the ministry that handles most of the expenditure; and nothing is mentioned here about the Ministry of Finance and that is where I believe the major problem starts. Another example, of the Ministry of Works that was dealt with here – we dealt with some illegal, immoral or unlawful purchases from one company, but can you imagine how many companies supply the government of Belize through the Ministry of Works? And in the audit of the Ministry of Works, there is absolutely, absolutely no mention of contracts, which is the large volume of what is spent. The large volume in the Ministry of Works is not how many tires you buy or how many parts you purchase to be able to accommodate your vehicles and have them functioning; that is miscellaneous expenses. The large budgetary allocation in the Ministry of Works is the contracts; and a proper audit should have analyzed the contracts – who were they given to? What was the quantum of the contracts? Was there value for money?  Was it completed?”

 

Espat hasn’t forgotten what happened last August, when on the adjournment he tried to address the special report of the Auditor General on Immigration and was named and shamed out of the House of Representatives, winding up suspended for five months. Nonetheless, he says he will proceed with his sworn duty.

 

Julius Espat

“I am in the process of writing the clerk of the National Assembly to request a meeting of the PAC right after the Senate meets, to be able to call in the Auditor General, to be able for her to explain what is in here in detail. Because a report – you’re the chairman of a corporation and a report by the auditors come in and they put it on your desk; it’s only a report. It is when you get into the details; it is when they bring justification – to be able to say this is the paper I got it from, then is when the PAC can fully function. So I will see once again, and I will give it try, to see if members of the PAC that are members of the ruling party and are Ministers – all of them are Ministers – will allow the PAC to, one, call the meeting; two, for it to be a public meeting: remember we fought many years ago, maybe six years ago, it was right after I got elected as chairman, it was 2012, 2013; where we forced the Government – and I am using the word ‘forced’ and you can go back in your files – to be able to allow the PAC to be able to function publicly, because that’s what it states, under the rules of Belize and the rules of engagement in the National Assembly.”

 

One of those members is Minister of Education Patrick Faber, who acknowledges readily the Government’s mistakes, but reiterated that their side of the story is not being fully told, while also indicating that they may have to recuse themselves from such an investigation. It is an assertion that Espat literally laughed at – but what lies underneath is quite serious.

 

Patrick Faber

Patrick Faber, Member, Public Accounts Committee

“For those who are concerned that there might be a conflict of interest in terms of the membership make-up – I know, for instance, that I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I believe that the situation would then call for us to recuse ourselves from any decision making that would come along with such a report being tabled before the Public Accounts Committee, so I am perfectly prepared to that. I will leave it at that for now, but know that I am perfectly willing and able to discuss the findings of that audit as it relates to my Ministry, in an orderly fashion; I hope that we could do in an orderly fashion as opposed to people pulling things here and there and jumping to conclusions. Which, as I have said, would more than likely come – I am warning against it because I can see it coming – because of the nature in which it was conducted: the Auditor General saying look, C.E.O., can you explain? And the explanation that the C.E.O. proffered should have been taken into account before putting out a final report, not in the manner which it was done – which is, the report stayed the same, and you slap on the response of the ministry as a kind of annex to the whole thing. So I am sure that there will be time enough for the ventilation of the entire report; there are many things broken with our Government, we acknowledge that right away. It does not necessarily mean that there are wrongdoings to that extent in the Government.”

 

Julius Espat

“So he wants them to change the format and put his response in the front instead of the back? That’s his justification?”

 

Reporter

“Well, that’s my question, my question being…”

 

Julius Espat

“(Laughs) And this is the person that’s postulating himself to be the next Prime Minister of this country and that is the response he gives? That’s a laughable response.”

 

Reporter

“My question being, how seriously should ministries take their responsibilities in responding to these gaps?”

 

Julius Espat

“As seriously as the law is amended to make them criminal acts. You have to understand; there are laws out there that say there are ways in which you should operate. If you as a public servant are of the opinion with all your experience and you are knowledgeable of the fact that what is being requested of you is illegal, immoral or unlawful, you should not do it. If you do it, then at least you should have a letter written by the Minister stating ‘I am authorizing you to do this’ so you can have it on file. So when the D.P.P. comes along – and the D.P.P. will come along; it may not be now, but they will come along – then these public officers, and it’s not [just] public officers, it’s ninety-nine percent of them are contract officers and we need to define that difference. Once that is not dealt with in the laws of Belize and once we are not serious about having people be responsible for their erroneous and unlawful activities, then it will not stop.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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