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Sorting out the Joint Public Accounts Committee – issues of attendance and Auditor General

Posted: Sunday, August 28, 2022. 4:51 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Considered a centerpiece of the current administration’s efforts at reform, is the Joint Public Accounts Committee sputtering only a year into its formation?

The Committee features the participation of six members from the House (two Opposition including the Chair and four Government) and the four non-aligned Senators. Membership consists of, from the House, Chairman Tracey Taegar-Panton and Hugo Patt from the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP); Julius Espat, Kareem Musa, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia and Kevin Bernard from the governing People’s United Party (PUP); and Senators Kevin Herrera (Business), Elena Smith (Trade Unions and Civil Society) and Janelle Сhаnоnа (Non-Governmental Organizations).

But at least one of the regular members, Musa, has missed meetings and asked colleague Bernard to substitute for him. Taegar-Panton frowned on this in speaking to reporters on Wednesday, setting out the position: “The members that were appointed to the JPAC have a duty and responsibility to attend meetings. If for example, a substantive member cannot attend a house committee meeting or a JPAC meeting they can appoint an alternate for a particular meeting. I don’t think it was the intention of the standing orders to have one alternate substitute for you permanently.”

Musa has since said the notices for meetings have missed his office.

But according to long-standing member Julius Espat and Prime Minister John Briceno says quorum has been established at every meeting and therefore the absences do not play an outsize role. As the P.M. put it, “The point is that them not attending does not stop them having a quorum. So, they have a quorum and they can proceed with the work of the JPAC but if there is any minister in particular that is not attending, then if I’m made aware of [it], I am prepared to speak with them, but it’s not impeding the work of the JPAC; that’s what’s important. Remember, under the UDP, the UDP ministers deliberately did not show up so there was no quorum but we do have a quorum and the work can proceed.”

Separately, will the return of Dorothy Bradley as Auditor General help speed up the JPAC’s work? Taegar-Panton was non-committal but stated that the office is what’s important: “We have been without an Auditor General for far too long; which has [significantly impacted] the work of the JPAC in looking at public expenditure and public statements.” She added that while she believes there are other qualified public officers who can do the job, she will respect the Government’s choice to bring Bradley back at least temporarily.

 

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