THE work of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), under the new chairmanship of the main Opposition’s Jermaine Figueira, has been “reasonable” and “rational” in its operations. This is according to government representative of the PAC, Juan Edghill, who said that after months of stalemate, the parliamentary body was, on Monday, finally able to get back to work. “We actually got work done. We also had a meeting last week, where we were able to get in place, a process of engagement to deal with the Public Procurement Commission; a sub-committee was formed,” the Minister of Public Works related.
Edghill believes that the Figueira-led PAC has showed positive signs of returning to some level of normalcy.
The PAC was previously headed by David Patterson of the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), who was then ousted following the passage of a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly earlier in June.
Patterson was appointed PAC Chair in December 2020; however, on February 1, 2021, during the sixth meeting of the APNU+AFC-led committee, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, moved a motion calling for Patterson to be replaced by another opposition member of the PAC.
Teixeira had premised her motion on the fact that Patterson was unfit to spearhead the work of the PAC, which is tasked with scrutinising public spending, since he himself was facing public allegations and charges relating to fraud and mismanagement of government monies.
At the time of that motion, the PAC was examining the findings of the 2016 Auditor General’s (AG) Report, which highlighted “paragraph after paragraph” worth of infractions on the part of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, headed by Patterson during his party’s 2015-2020 tenure in government.
At that time, however, Patterson’s other three colleagues, Ganesh Mahipaul, Jermaine Figueira and Juretha Fernandes, refused to take Patterson’s place. Notwithstanding the fraud charges and investigations, the APNU+AFC trio had vehemently insisted that Patterson had the full confidence of his Coalition party.
This led to a notable stalemate of the work of the PAC, and Patterson was accused of stymieing the furtherance of the no-confidence motion brought against him.
As a result of the motion being continually blocked, Teixeira’s motion was taken to the ‘full-house’ National Assembly, where Patterson’s fate was heavily debated, and eventually sealed with the passage of the motion which forced him to step down.
According to Figueira, Patterson remains a member of the parliamentary committee.
As it is, the work of the PAC has been significantly delayed, with the body still examining the contents of the 2016 Auditor General’s Report. According to Minister Edghill, Monday’s sitting saw the examination of a number of procurement breaches occurring at the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Business, the National Communications Network, and the Guyana Defence Force, under the former APNU+AFC government. Edghill made specific reference to the establishment of the Plantain Chips Factory which was built, but never operationalised.
Meanwhile, the new PAC Chairman, Jermaine Figueira, has also expressed satisfaction relating to the manner in which the committee has been doing its work during the past two meetings. “I think we are progressing at a pace; we didn’t have much confrontation so to speak,” Figueira confirmed.
In assuming his new role, Figueira had expressed commitment towards executing the mandate of the PAC, which is largely responsible for scrutinising financial irregularities flagged in the annual AG’s report.
In a previous interview with the Guyana Chronicle, Figueira committed to hosting at least two weekly PAC meetings, aimed at clearing the backlog of work, before the Parliament goes into recess. “We on the opposition are prepared to do what is expected of us…which is to ensure accountability and transparency of the people’s money,” the young Member of Parliament said. He indicated too that although Patterson was forced to step down as the head of the PAC, he remains an “integral” member of the committee.
Minister Edghill is hopeful that once a “clear focus” is kept, and Figueira continues directing the PAC in the manner that he has, then the PAC could be better able to strengthen the management of taxpayers’ resources.
“…that general sense of bullyism at the PAC and so on, that was void of at today’s [Monday’s] meeting,” the Public Works Minister emphasised.