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We need to change the way PAC operates

It’s been nine weeks since MPs trundled up the Hill to do business.

A nice break, you might think, but let’s not be too harsh here. The work of Government doesn’t just stop because the House is in recess. Besides we all know that the real work doesn’t happen up there on the Hill, it is down there around the Cabinet table that the actual decisions are made, and then taken to caucus for review and approval.

Cabinet Ministers have therefore, presumably, been hard at work in the Ministries over the break, whether full-time or part-time, although we still don’t know what constitutes one from the other, except for pay.

Backbench MPs will also have their behind the scenes work, including caucus, plus they get extra time to work in their constituencies.

But, I don’t think this means that the Legislature should go silent. On the contrary, these breaks present an ideal opportunity for House committees to spring into action. If only.

It wasn’t that long ago that an inquisitive reader challenged me to elaborate on why I thought committees, and more of them, could be useful.

Okay, here’s my chance.

The most important committee of the House on the Hill, for my money, is the Public Accounts Committee (PAC for short). Its principal job is to examine, and keep under review, Government spending. In short, to follow the money.

It is chaired by the Opposition spokesman for Finance. It’s the tradition, and the rules require it, so, this time it is PLP MP David Burt’s turn.

PAC is made up only of members of the backbench, Opposition and Government, for obvious reason. You can find their names on the Legislature’s website: www.parliament.bm. They are: David Burt, Terry Lister, Cole Simons, Jeanne Atherden, Glen Smith, Jeff Sousa and Lovitta Foggo.

The pity here is that members of the Government outnumber those of the Opposition. Opposition members are, shall we say, more naturally inclined to want to meet, and keep, a close eye.

However, if you look closely on the website (and you should) you will also see that PAC last reported on Government accounts for the financial year ended March 31, 2010. No prizes here for calculating that was over three years ago.

In my books, it is time to bring to an end the review, and oversight, of spending that is historical. Not only has the horse long since bolted the stable in a lot of these cases, but the stable is long since in need of repair as well.

PAC needs to become more current, and meet more regularly, and publicly. With the help of the Auditor General it could also be keeping under review current capital contracts, or any other contacts that are Government-funded.

Two spring to mind immediately: Heritage Wharf in Dockyard, and the new hospital. Questions and concerns can be raised and answers will have to be given — all in the sunshine of public scrutiny. The effect could be, financially, quite salutary.

Of course it falls to our MPs to ask the right questions and, yes, it won’t be all Kumbaya. No one is that naive.

There will, of course, still be the usual posturing and jockeying for position, but on these occasions MPs will also be called upon to inquire, and engage, in a way that will differ from performances so common on the Hill. Possibly for the better even.

It will make a difference, I believe, having to jaw around a table rather than having to shout across an aisle. And we all know what they say about those who make the loudest noises.

* Comments? Blog online at www.royalgazette.com or e-mail jbarritt@ibl.bm.

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Published May 17, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm)

We need to change the way PAC operates

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