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Sep 24, 2013

The first meeting of the PAC, sans Opposition participation

The Public Accounts Committee, sans Opposition participation, held a meeting in Belmopan on Monday. Because of the volume of news on Monday, we held back that story for today.  As was promised, the session was open to the public, and there was quite a turnout from the public sector, as well as some unexpected invited observers. On the agenda was the analysis of the Auditor-General’s report for fiscal year 2003-2004. And while there were no immediate fireworks or even the whiff of gunpowder, that could be because things are just getting started. Mike Rudon was in Belmopan and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

As far as the transparency song is concerned, the PAC meeting on Monday seemed to hit all the right notes. The media was on hand to record the highlights of the session, and so were quite a few members of the public sector from all levels. We saw C.E.O.s, Heads of Department, representatives from the Ministry of Finance and the Solicitor-General’s Office. And then there were the special observers – senators representing the unions, churches and the private sector. They’re not exactly paper tigers…but for the purposes of the meetings, they will be silent tigers.

 

John Saldivar, Pro-tem Chairman, PAC

“We have asked them or invited them to observe the proceedings of the meetings so I expect that if they wish to, they will be attending these hearings.”

 

Reporter

“Will they be allowed to give input?”

 

John Saldivar

“No…they’re just here to observe.”

 

Edmund Zuniga

With committee member John Saldivar acting as pro tem Chairman in the absence of Chairman Julius Espat, the focus was turned to Edmund Zuniga. He was Auditor-General from 2005 to 2011, but formulated the reports for the period under scrutiny – 2003/2004. Two glaring challenges were evident right off the top – the first was a lack of human resources in the department which must audit not only government ministries, but a lot else beside that.

 

Edmund Zuniga, Former Auditor-General

“In my time there were about thirty-seven persons who actually went out into the field to perform audits.”

 

Michael Finnegan, PAC Member

“Do you find that adequate or short…or what is the case there sir?”

 

Edmund Zuniga

“Certainly inadequate. About fifty departments, all the municipalities except Belmopan…there are one hundred and ninety village councils and one hundred and ninety water boards…a number of specially requested audits…”

 

Michael Finnegan

“So that’s why you take so long…right sir? That is why you take so long…”

 

Edmund Zuniga

“It really is an impossible job…”

 

And as bad or worse than the lack of resources is the lack of access to timely, pertinent and accurate information – that is essential for a proper audit to be done.

 

Edmund Zuniga

“The time should be adequate…the ninety days required should be adequate. However there has to be a back and forth between the Office of the Auditor-General and the Accountant General’s Office for clarifications, for research. When you pen a memorandum to the Accountant General seeking responses to certain queries, certain issues…you the Auditor-General are in no position to go down there and make sure that you get a response. You just need to send reminders and wait for the response to come.”

 

John Saldivar

John Saldivar

“It’s been very insightful. I believe that the information gathered from the former Auditor-General is already pointing us in a direction in terms of how government’s finances have been kept in the past and perhaps continue to be kept. We’re looking to see what the deficiencies are and how we can improve the system.”

 

Reporter

“What would be the most glaring thing that’s come out of this morning?”

 

John Saldivar

“Well as you saw in the wrap-up just now the former Auditor General declared quite clearly that he, in his opinion, was not able to give an adequate opinion on the financial statements for ‘03-‘04 simply because most of the material statements that should have been provided to him by the Accountant General were not provided.”

 

Nothing that came out of the meeting was a glaring revelation, or even a mild surprise. The question which must arise now is what’s next? Will these politicians find the political will to use the findings of the PAC to effect meaningful change?

 

John Saldivar

“Unlike what has been said in the public domain it’s not a witch-hunting committee…it’s a committee that is really to look at the advice of the Auditor-General to see how the money was spent and if there are flaws in the system, if there are discrepancies that need to be corrected and in our report then to the House of Representatives we will recommend for changes in the legislation.”

 

Only time will tell how that works out. As to participation by the Opposition which is considered crucial…Saldivar sent out a public plea for the Chairman and his colleague to return, calling their absence lamentable. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

The Public Accounts Committee meets again on Wednesday, when it is scheduled to review the Auditor-General’s report submitted during the first year of this current administration. 

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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2 Responses for “The first meeting of the PAC, sans Opposition participation”

  1. no foxes in the henhouse, check! says:

    We all know things are good., but we will get paid well to say it.

    Beddy-bye time, report done, all is good.
    your eyes are getting sleepy. all is good.
    dream about Castro’s booty call. all is good.

  2. FedUp says:

    They are playing this charade asking about how government finances have been kept? These fools know finances have been kept in their pockets and personal bank accounts!!! How else could pig head Saldivar afford that mansion he lives in? Since when politics in Belize could produce millionaires? Saldivar has a stripper pole in his basement and Castro spends his time there when he is in Belmopan. Bandz a make him dance! Castro clappin and he aint usin hands!

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