Statement by Hon. Gail Teixeira M.P., Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance
Transparency and Accountability Demand Justice
– Why are the Opposition MPs in the PAC in a rush to examine the reports from 2015-2020?
Much has been written by a particular media house about the government’s attendance, or more particularly non-attendance at meetings of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
One of particular note was given editorial prominence recently, with one author taking much liberty in drawing conclusions on the PPP/C Government’s agenda and objectives in the PAC, but more so on the PPP/C Government’s overall approach to accountability and transparency – conclusions that were grossly incorrect. Simple fact checks would have shown how incorrect they were – a point that must be stressed since editorial liberties in the absence of fact checking fuels the misinformation campaign that does a disservice to our people and country.
A comprehensive response to the allegations made both by Opposition members and the media have now been made necessary given the selective reflection of comments I have been invited to provided, on occasion, in response to the reports and statements by the PNCR-led APNU+AFC Coalition Parliamentarians who sit on the PAC.
First, most interesting is the Stabroek News editorial of March 26, 2023, which pointed its accusatory finger by saying:
“The refusal on the part of the PPP/C to facilitate the investigation of government accounts under its own stewardship as opposed to the period when the other side was in office, is more than a refusal to afford the Opposition a potential avenue for criticism; it is to renege on a constitutional duty to the nation. And the nation includes the PPP/C’s own supporters, not just those of APNU+AFC and the independent voters. In other words, the PPP/C is behaving as if it is not accountable to anyone, and is entitled to do as it pleases. Whatever else this is, it is not in correspondence with a standard definition of democratic behaviour.”
In response, facts must answer and not the hyperbole of that editorial. It may be useful to analyse the records of the PAC in the 10th, 11th and 12th Parliaments as follows:
1. 10th Parliament (32 months)
• March 16, 2012 to November 3, 2014: 57 meetings held
• No Government Ministers sat on the PAC.
2. 11th Parliament (40 months)
• September 9, 2015- August 6, 2018: 44 meetings held
• 2 Ministers –Volda Lawrence and Valarie Patterson
• Minister Lawrence was excused 12 times and Minister Patterson was excused 23 times.
3. 12th Parliament (28 months)
• December 28, 2020- March 6, 2023: 51 meetings held
• 2 Ministers- Minister Bishop Edghill and Minister Gail Teixeira
• Both Ministers were excused eight times and absent twice
It must be stressed that no meetings are held annually in the recess period August 10 to October 10, annually.
Further, from the records of the Parliament, more meetings of the PAC were held in the 12th Parliament over its 28 months’ life than in the 40 months’ life of the 11th Parliament. Two Ministers sat on the PAC in each Parliament and one set clearly had a higher rate of non-attendance than the other.
Secondly, the argument put forward that the amendment to the Standing Orders with regards to the quorum for the PAC is a PPP/C Government strategy to prevent the PAC from carrying out its mandate also does not hold water. In 2022, following the passage of Resolution #35 of April 13, 2022, the PAC met 13 times of the 25 times it met for the period ending on March 31, 2023.
It should not be taken lightly that the PAC in the 12th Parliament has a heavier agenda than both the 10th and 11th Parliaments; it had to finalize the work done in the 11th Parliament with regards to the PAC report on the combined 2015/2016 Annual Audited Reports, which was tabled and adopted in the National Assembly in 2022 as well as address the Annual Audited Reports of the years 2017, 2018, 2019 which were tabled at the end of 2020 due to the No Confidence Motion, the 14 months during which Guyana had no lawful government, the 2020 elections and the five month delay before the election results were declared. The PAC is, therefore, dealing with a backlog not of its making but due to circumstances beyond its control. The Annual Audited Reports for 2020 and 2021 have also been laid on time and are before the PAC.
Although a lot of work has been done with regards to the 2017/2018 combined report, due to the unavailability of documentation and non-attendance by a number of former Permanent Secretaries and former Regional Executive Officers, this report has not been concluded. These observations have repeatedly come up at each hearing of the 2017/2018 and now the 2019 reports. The examination of any audited reports requires not only the presence of accounting officers who held office in 2015-2020 but also their timely provision of documents and answers so that examination can be thorough in the national interest. Yet these facts have been ignored by the author of the editorial and other commentators.
Thirdly, the PAC has not reached the audited reports for the PPP/C Government’s term of office yet. Therefore, the argument being peddled that the PPP/C MPs nor the PPPC government want to scrutinize these audited reports is bizarre. Why wouldn’t the PPP/C MPs want to examine, inspect and dissect any audited report, but more especially the Auditor General Reports for the years 2017-2020 – a time when the APNU+AFC Coalition was in government? These reports, so far, have been replete with revelations of violations of the Procurement Act and financial procedures?
Discerning minds would be credited in questioning why the Opposition MPs in the PAC wish to move with such haste through these years? Is it to push their “dirty linen” under the mat so the public would not know what they did with the taxpayers’ monies during their tenure? Is the author of the editorial saying that the period of the APNU+AFC Coalition Government should not be subject to scrutiny by the PAC, the public and the media? One wonders if the author of the editorial wishes the public to ignore the fact that several former Ministers are before the court for acts of corruption and violation of the laws of the country? Isn’t that also an aspect of accountability and transparency?
It must be pointed out that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the PAC hearings have been open to the public and the media, via livestreaming which continues to date. The media is therefore privy to the scandalous revelations in these reports, but some seem uninterested or reluctant to cover this plethora of information, given the paucity of reporting on the matter. The fact that all the Audited Annual Reports, Special Audits and Special Performance Audit Reports have been published and laid in the National Assembly as well as posted on the website of the Office of the Auditor General means that any member of the public and media can scrutinize these with or without the PAC. One must ask what is stopping scrutiny of these records and solid investigative journalism?
Fourthly, the web of deception being woven with regards to the PPP/C in the PAC has also spread to include views on the functioning of the other Parliamentary Committees and again the blame is put on the PPPC Government MPs. Maybe these facts will help:
• Special Select Committees
11th Parliament: 5
12th Parliament: 4
• Parliamentary Management Committee (PMC)
11th Parliament: 7
12th Parliament: 7
Noteworthy is that at least eight meetings of the PMC in 2021 were convened and called off due to the lack of two – two quorum required by the Standing Orders due to the absence of the APNU+AFC MPs. When Opposition members accuse the PPP/C MPs of stymying the work of the PAC they are speaking out of guilt for what they did in the PMC for the years 2021 and part of 2022.
Finally, the Stabroek News editorial concludes that:
“And one of the main guardrails that we have against corruption is Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. That the government is treating it with such contempt – and by extension all Guyanese citizens ‒ is nothing short of a disgrace.”
I proffer that Constitution and laws of Guyana establish the anti-corruption framework and the checks and balances for transparency and accountability with oversight mechanisms of the Auditor Generals’ Office, the Public Accounts Committee, and other bodies. Also, since taking office in August 2020, a National Coordinating Committee (NCC) on Anti-Corruption has been established and involves a cross-section of government agencies and works on, not only ensuring that Guyana is compliant with its reporting obligations, but also on capacity building and maximizing on the synergies that exist among agencies. The NCC meets on a bi-monthly basis and 16 agencies are currently represented on the Committee. Also, an ‘Anti-Corruption Framework – Fact Sheet and Detailed Framework 2022’ was published in 2022 to support the work being done to strengthen and improve transparency and accountability.
The “disgrace” referred to is in those who used taxpayer’s monies and government resources to enrich themselves in 2015-2020, while the public suffered without adequate supplies of drugs, medical and school supplies, poor services and shoddy public works, heavy taxation, closure of businesses, thousands losing their jobs including 7000 sugar workers, 1,972 Amerindian Community Service Officers (CSOs), and thousands fired from the public service.
In conclusion, I wish to emphasise that the PAC is examining the 2019 audited report, the year the APNUAFC government remained in office as a caretaker government and spent and behaved as if it had a mandate to do so. This is a national disgrace! Transparency and accountability demand justice; the disgrace would be if nothing were done to correct this.