Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said yesterday that he is becoming “increasingly concerned” with the level of responsiveness to, and effectiveness of, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Cooper, who was on his way to a PAC meeting at the House of Assembly, said although the committee had plans to investigate the government’s debt restructuring, he still has major concerns about the ways in which other government bodies have responded to the PAC in the past.
“I would tell you, though, that I’m becoming increasingly concerned with respect to the responsiveness to PAC – the effectiveness of the PAC,” said Cooper.
“When the House next meets, no doubt the chairman of the PAC, Mr. Davis, will lead a discussion in this regard with respect to how we can give the PAC more teeth.”
“The House of Assembly and its parliamentary powers [are] entitled to receive information, in my view. Assessments are required by the PAC. Unless we can put in place these checks and balances, it weakens the system overall. So, I am for one sick and tired of hearing this government say the ‘PLP did this’ and ‘PLP did that’.”
The PAC is the only committee in Parliament that is controlled by the opposition. It aims to monitor the Parliament’s spending and ensure the minimization of extravagance and maximization of sound financial practices on behalf of the government.
However, Cooper said that this function is hindered when other government bodies refuse to communicate with the committee.
This, he said, is not good for a thriving democracy.
“The truth of the matter is that we have to protect the system for future generations,” he said.
“We have to protect the sanctity of parliamentary democracy.
“It’s regrettable that, in a democracy, that we have civil servants or the Ministry of Finance, in particular, refusing to provide information. This is an occasion we’ve seen before with the permanent secretary at the time refusing to send information to the PAC.
“We cannot run a government, we cannot be effective, we cannot have good governance generally unless all systems of government are working effectively.”
In February, Cooper accused the Minnis administration of “prettying up the books” with respect to its budgets, without providing the “underlying realities”.
But, he told The Nassau Guardian yesterday that the committee wanted to conduct a detailed analysis of the government’s debt restructuring because the committee was “concerned” that the Ministry of Finance was potentially restructuring “too much of the debt in favor of foreign borrowing”.
“We accept the minister of finance’s explanation in terms of the amounts that were restructured,” said Cooper.
“But, we are not happy with the details provided, and we wanted to look further into it.”
This comes nearly five months after opposition leader Phillip Brave Davis, chair of the PAC, demanded the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Education explain why they refused to comply with the committee’s request for information.
“The committee awaited word from the Ministry of Finance on the question of the deficit figures, and from the Central Bank,” Davis said in a statement in April.
He said that, at the time, the PAC had received a response from the Central Bank, but the Ministry of Finance claimed that “the committee has no jurisdiction to review the matter”.
Davis also added that attempts to reach out to the Ministry of Education went “ignored”.
Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd said his ministry will cooperate with the committee.