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Enhancing Parliamentary Oversight Over Public Spending- The Role Of The PAC
 
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15-Apr-2017  
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The Presidency of H.E. Nana Akufo Addo will be distinctive largely on how he approaches the fights on corruption perceived as endemic. Nana Addo’s 2016 campaign made fighting graft in public offices a central theme and received by many who felt the John Mahama Administration wasn’t doing a good job with corruption.

The expectation of many Ghanaians of the capacity of now President Nana Addo to restore and instil rectitude to the management of public resources is high, and no defences will be welcome. However, to achieve the desired outcome in the fight against corruption would require of other institutions including the Auditor General Department, CHRAJ, Council of State and the Parliament of Ghana paying their constitutionally mandated responsibilities dutifully in protecting the public purse.

Perceive graft in public service is amplified by the classic and awe-inspiring exposés, in particular, the judicial corruption and many others by Anas Aremeyaw Anas. The uncompromising works by badass Manasseh Azure Awuni on the SUBA, SADA and GYEDA, dabster Imani’s technical analysis on public contracting and contract pricing and the Occupy Ghana’s (OG) bravery to dare powerful demagogues with demonstrations and the recent epic pieces by Samson Lardy Anyenini of Joy FM. These guys and the institutions they represent have dared to be different and required of the rest of us to venerate them for their work. They have in truth upheld the tenants of Article 35(8) of the Republic of Ghana’s constitution. Anas in particular to me even qualify to be a corruption czar to the President base on his depth of appreciation on the practice of corruption.

Unfortunately, and like Former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama said on his first official trip to Africa, and I quote “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”. The saying resonates much when one is looking for ways to make graft unrewarding and difficult trade. Institutions and I mean “Strong Institutions” become extremely important in the fight against corruption. In recognition of this, I wish to discuss the various institutions charged with the responsibility of protecting the public purse, their challenges and how WE (Ghanaians) can make them strong to deliver on their mandate. In my view, this will be the right way to addressing the age long problem of corruption more permanently.

It is undeniable that a functional governance system with clearly delineated roles has a high propensity to reducing corruption and checking government spending. Many developing countries around the world have suffered significantly due in part to the opaqueness of system of check and balance and the assumption of full power by the executive who in many countries are not accountable. The executive asserts so much power that the other legitimate arms of government become irrelevant and succumb to executive’s whims and caprices. Often, the excessive powers of the executive make prudence in government spending a non-issue, but rather profligacy and corruption and self-seeking interest dominate. Thankfully, many developing countries have recognised the importance of functioning governance system and its consequential impact at ameliorating poverty and propelling development. In the last two decades, African has seen many of its countries turn to democracy, increased accountability and economic development have since surged. Many of these countries are building systems to ensure sustainability and continuity of the gains made so far. Ghana is not an exception, as, within the last two decades, the various government have invested significantly in ensuring that the various realms of governance perform their constitutionally mandated responsibilities rightfully.

The Parliament of Ghana under the 1992 constitution has a clearly defined oversight over public spending. It also has the power of approving spending, approving government loans and also monitoring of public expenses. In other to perform these oversight responsibilities, the Constitution and the standing orders of the House have established some committees. Among the committees charged with the responsibility of ensuring accountability in public financing is the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The PAC is one of the 11 Standing Committees of Parliament and is solely charge with the mandate of monitoring public expenditure.

The creation of PAC was in line with the 1992 Constitution – Article 103 which states “Parliament shall appoint Standing Committees and other Committees as may be necessary for the effective discharge of its functions”. The Constitutional provision and Standing Orders of the Parliament of Ghana, Order 151(2), established the PAC. The membership of the committee is drawn from both divides of the House and chaired by the Minority side of the house. The role of PAC is to primarily ensure that the executive remains accountable with regards to the utilisation of public funds, fighting corruption and to enhance Parliamentary oversight in general. The PAC operates on the back of information provided to Parliament by the Auditor-General. Since the year, 2007, the PAC hearings are carried out live on national media networks and also conduct its hearing in public. The practice dubbed as “naming and shaming” is identified as one way of enhancing accountability. The PAC also carries out regional level hearing since the audited reports encapsulate the activities at District, Municipal and Metropolitan Assemblies levels. Upon completion of the hearings, a comprehensive report on key findings, perceive corrupt practices and irregularities are reported back to the main chamber of Parliament for consequential action.
The PAC remains constrained in some areas in the discharge of its function and if not addressed could militate against the effort of the Executive in fighting corruption. Top among the constraints is financing – the committee just like other committees of Parliament do have funding challenges. Budgetary allocations to the Committee are woefully inadequate and hinder the implementation of its programmes. PAC for the fact that its activities impact on good governance, had received considerable donor support for carrying out this constitutional function in the past. The worry, however, is that of sustainability- as donors leave the sector, with Ghana’s transition into the middle-income economy, what will become of PAC when Donors finally pull out of the sector? The under-resourcing also goes to indicate the level of commitment of Ghana to deepening accountability and fighting corruption in public offices. As an indispensable body in the fight against corruption, there is the need to ensure funding never become a challenge for the discharge of this responsibility.

Enforcement of its recommendations remains the low end of the PAC. Its inability to enforce its recommendation is worrying. PACs report ends at the plenary of the House, and we are yet to see when the committee’s findings get implemented. The Audit Report Implementation Committee (ARIC) which exist for all Ministries are responsible for implementing the recommendations of the PAC. The feedback mechanism between these bodies have been weak, and in most cases, ARIC does not implement PAC recommendations. Except naming and shaming, the committee has not choke much success. No tribunal is currently in place. And not a single case where punitive measures prescribed against institutions found to have misappropriated public fund have seen culprits punished. To solve this problem, Parliament is currently working on the creation of a tribunal to which the PAC can refer cases to in the future. The process must, therefore, be hastened a bit as PAC will remain significant arm in the fight on corruption.

There remain huge backlog of Reports yet to receive the attention of PAC. The Committee, since its inception, had had to work on a significant number of the financial reports submitted to the committee. However, there remain some reports that the committee is yet to consider. The reasons often assigned has to do with a time lag between the submission of the Auditor-General’s Report to Parliament and the decision of the Business Committee of the House to list the report on the Order Paper for the consideration of Parliament. However, political consideration is often cited as one motivator for the non-submission to the committee especially during election periods. The potency of the hearing and the finding of the committee could have a political cost, hence sitting governments are usual lacklustre in their attitude about the submission of such report during election periods.
A functioning PAC just like an independent Auditor-General is the most ideal if Ghana is to reduce waste in public finance. Our stable democracy could only generate commensurate growth and development when institutions work; when corruption is low; when governments are held accountable and when people believe in the law. To this end, I make the following recommendations which will enhance the oversight of parliament through PAC in protecting the national purse.

Establishment of Tribunal – the need for a tribunal to work on the recommendations of the PAC is the most important to ensuring accountability and punishment for wrongful appropriation of state resources. Without punishment, the motivation for others not to compromise their stands in the discharge of duties reduces. It is clear that such private inducement is an enabler for enhanced private welfare and without corresponding punishment, private benefit considerations will always win over public interest.

PAC Funding Support- to ensure sustainable funding for the PAC, budget allocations must be appropriate to meet the needs of the committee. Making sufficient funding available to the committee would enable it to discharge its responsibilities dutifully and in a timeous manner. A statutory funding mechanism either through a quota of tax revenue could guarantees funding to parliament and for that matter PAC.

Establishment of the close linkage between PAC and ARIC- the need for collaboration between these two committees is most important. PAC often outlines some policy options which are expected to enhance the workings of government agencies. ARIC must be forced to ensure that PAC recommendations get implemented at the agencies level. Failure to comply with PAC’s recommendations must have corresponding punishment for ARIC. PAC must undertake frequent monitoring as well.

Involvement of the media- the other consideration is the involvement of the media in enhancing transparency and naming and shaming. Our media have come of age, and their appreciation of government statistics is now enabling them to sift through such numbers to identify anomalies and deficiencies. It remains a critical tool to demystifying the myth of corruption and increased transparency and prudence in public spending.

In a nutshell, one cannot but to appreciate the role of Parliament in exposing the wrongs in government spending. Their activities over the last decade have help increased awareness among people concerning government activities. They have brought governance to the doorstep of the ordinary Ghanaian. The citizens are aware of the wrongs of government. However, it is not enough to expose the wrongs. There is the need to ensure that those found culpable are brought to book lawfully. To ensure that this happen would require the swift action of Parliament to establish the special tribunal and empower it to pursue the finding of the PAC. It will also require the strengthening of other institutions of Parliament and the media. The promulgation of the PFM laws is also critical to ensuring that institutions do their professional job with regards to public spending.

 
 
 
 
Source: Kwadwo Kyeremeh ([email protected])
 
 

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