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Cabinet approves expansion of Public Accounts Committee that would give civil partners greater representation

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Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2021. 7:25 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Perhaps the biggest news coming out of Monday’s Cabinet meeting held in Belize City was reserved for the final paragraph of the weekly briefing issued this evening.

It reads as follows:

“In connection with its commitment to good governance, Cabinet gave its support to introduce a Motion to Amend the Standing Orders for the House of Representatives. This motion will be presented to House of Representatives at its meeting on Friday, February 5, 2021, and seeks, among other things, to reconstitute the Public Accounts Committee to increase its membership from six to nine by the addition of three social partner senators to its membership.”

Arguably not big news for Belmopan, then, but momentous for those who have followed the workings of the Committee since now-Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing Julius Espat took charge in 2012. We await a response from him as to whether he still sits on the Committee, or knows who does.

As we first reported in 2019, there has been bipartisan support for the expansion of the Committee to include membership from the Senate and specifically those crossbenchers representing various sectors.

Then-Prime Minister Dean Barrow, speaking on Independence Day, implored the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry to help with the logistics for the changeover, particularly the instruments to make the newly bipartisan Committee come to fruition.

The Committee is one of the original committees of the House of Representatives and the only one, at least prior to this announcement, chaired by the opposition party in the majority – 4 to 2. The new composition would theoretically strengthen the non-Governmental hold on the Committee to a margin of seven to two.

Its remit is to review the national finances to ensure good governance, accountability and transparency. But it has run into rocks and shoals over the years when, as chairman, Espat tried to wield it as a rod of correction against the Barrow government. His colleagues, including then Deputy Prime Minister, now Leader of the Opposition Patrick Faber, turned down his requests to hold meetings in public and they were not able to agree on a single report about the Auditor General’s findings; indeed, we are not clear if those reports were ever submitted before election writs were dropped last October.

But at least one thing the Committee can agree on is that it needs to be seen to be doing its work, as part of the apparatus of Government oversight.

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