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WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE

The name Public Accounts Committee (PAC) refers to a committee in the legislature that must study public audits, invite ministers, permanent secretaries or other ministry officials to the committee for questioning, and issue a report of their findings subsequent to a government budget audit.

Vanuatu like most Countries around the world has a Public Accounts Committee otherwise known as PAC. 

Whilst Institutions like the Auditor General of Vanuatu is a constitutional body created under Section 25 of the Constitution of Vanuatu, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is a Work Committee of Parliament created under article 23 of the Constitution.

Typically, PAC is required to report back to parliament on its recommendations within a specified period, usually two to six months.

More often than not, opposition members chair PACs in the Democratic nations or commonwealth.

PACs also provides the Vanuatu Government recommendations concerning Government Ministries requiring that they change certain policies and procedures to improve their operations.

The majority of legislatures descending from the British Parliament use public account committees to follow up on the findings of public audits.

Since the creation of the Public Accounts Committee in the Gladstonian Reforms of1861, PACs have become ubiquitous throughout the Commonwealth.

The tremendous expansion and scope of government and of state-owned enterprises during the second half of the 20th century made PACs, which are charged with overseeing government expenditures, even more important.

An important aspect of PAC is, it is a Work Committee inside Vanuatu Parliament and though not a Constitutional Body does have freedom but is limited in its operations to the Standing Orders of Vanuatu Parliament.

Overall in Vanuatu Parliament, PAC’s key responsibilities are:

  1. To examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the Republic of Vanuatu including the Financial Statement transmitted to the Auditor-General in accordance with Section 25 of the Public Finance and Economic Management Act No. 6 of 1998 and Section 27 of the Expenditure and Audit Act No. 3 of 1998, as amended;
  2. To examine the financial affairs of authorities of the Republic of Vanuatu and of the intergovernmental bodies to which these Acts apply;
  3. To examine all reports of the Auditor-General (including reports of the results of efficiency audit) copies of which have been laid before Parliament;
  4. To report to parliament as to what corrective actions have been undertaken or planned to be undertaken by the Government to improve the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness with which the funds appropriated by Parliament have been expended;
  5. To report to Parliament, with such comments as it thinks fit, any items or matters in those accounts, statements, and reports or any circumstances connected with them, to which the committee is of the opinion that the attention of the parliament should be directed;
  6. To inquire into any question in connection with public accounts which is referred to it by Parliament, and to report to Parliament upon those questions;
  7. To report to parliament any amendment as it thinks fit in matters related to the management, collection, control, issue or payment of public funds;
  8. To enquire and examine matters related to tax measures, appropriation bills and publicly-owned financial corporations;

PAC is also subject to other duties as assigned to the Committee by the Standing Orders approved by Vanuatu Parliament.

Any decision based on the investigations or recommendations done through PAC must be from the Vanuatu Parliament as PAC is a Vanuatu Parliament Work Committee and all reports from PAC are expected to be presented to the Vanuatu Parliament before being made public.

PAC has a very critical role too when it comes to legislations as through their investigations, PAC can ultimately recommend changes to legislation that would protect and enable the Vanuatu Government to be more effective in providing Public Services to the people.

As PAC is made up of 100% of Parliamentarians or legislators, it’s role extends to advice on matters that have already been investigated by other institutions and provide clarity to Vanuatu Parliament.

Most people see PAC as an Ombudsman, however, as a Parliament Work Committee, PAC in no way acts as an Ombudsman and does not have powers similar to that of an Ombudsman.

PAC’s role is within its own jurisdiction and its jurisdiction is very limited given it is a Parliament Work Committee that adheres to the Vanuatu Parliament Standing Orders.

In most countries around the world, Public Accounts Committees face several challenges.

For one, auditors general are often poorly funded, and their reports may be lengthy, complex, poorly organized, and difficult to understand.

Funding and staff shortages mean that audit reports are often years behind, so ministry officials needed for questioning might have moved on.

In many cases auditors general are appointed by the executive and so may have little incentive to uncover problems that could embarrass those who appointed them.

Investigating report findings is time and labor-intensive. Parliaments need professional staff, but they are often not available.

Finally, governments are often not responsive to parliament, and there may be few tools at a parliament’s disposal to compel government compliance.

The Public Accounts Committee in Vanuatu has a role that displays very well but it needs to be more concentrated to be less politicized when it comes to issues involving Parliamentarians themselves.

In recent events, PAC has notably been great, however, it needs to follow its own rules and present findings to the Vanuatu Parliament first before making public their investigations.

There is tremendous pressure on PAC in Vanuatu, like most cases, they summon people to the Committee, however, PAC needs to also conduct on-site investigations and also be more aware of events surrounding issues.

The Vanuatu Parliament has established eight Standing Committees and The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have appointed the members to the said Standing Committees.

The Standing Committees were established by resolution of Parliament upon the leader of the Government Business giving notice of motion to establish Standing committees.

The Vanuatu Parliament is empowered to appoint Working Committee’s by Article 23 of the Constitution which states “Parliament may establish committees and appoint members to them.”

The members of the Standing Committees are appointed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition representing proportionally the political parties represented in Parliament.

The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committees are elected by the Committees among their Members.

The term of office of the Standing Committees is four (4) years and a Minister is not eligible to be appointed as a member of the Standing Committees and if a member, after his appointment to a Standing Committees, is appointed a Minister, he ceases to be a member of a Standing Committee from the date of such appointment.

The role of committees is to investigate and to draw attention to what they find or as in most cases, they throw ‘light in dark corners’ and give advice.

Committees were appointed specifically to do work that the Chamber is not suited to do and most times allow time for deeper consideration for issues for example Bills, allow policymakers and administrators to be questioned, allow expert advice to be gathered and allow community opinion to be expressed

These are the main functions of PAC and it is important that people do understand how PAC operates and to what extent it is able to operate.