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1.INTRODUCTION Parliamentary Committees through various oversight mechanisms provide true meaning to the mandate of Parliament by holding the executive accountable in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Like any other Parliaments in the world, the Parliament of Botswana discharges its oversight functions through Committees and the Public Accounts Committee is one of the Committees. By the nature of its role as the public spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee is one of the most powerful Committees. It has a key role to play in ensuring that there is accountability and transparency in the way Government agencies allocate, spend and manage their finances and in guaranteeing that the taxpayer receives value for money for every pula spent.
1.INTRODUCTION cont… Ever since the Public Accounts Committee was established, its mandate has always concentrated on financial probity and regularity otherwise known as ex-post scrutiny/examination: checking whether Government expenditure complied with what Parliament has warranted funds for. However, in recent years, there have been new developments in auditing where emphasis is no longer on compliance with rules and regulations when spending money but whether there has been economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the utilization of resources, that is, value for money. In Botswana the Office of the Auditor General has already been conducting value for money audits but the PAC only started to examine these reports this year.
2.APPOINTMENT, POWERS AND FUNCTIONS OF BOTSWANA PAC 2.1Appointment of the Committee • The Public Accounts Committee of Botswana is a Standing Committee which is appointed for the life of Parliament. The Committee is appointed in terms of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly. Its composition is such that it reflects as far as possible the balance of the political parties in the National Assembly. • Botswana PAC consists of ten (10) private Members of Parliament and it is the largest Committee. As is now regarded as international best practice, the Chairperson of PAC is elected from among the ten Members by the Committee of Selection and such Member should be a Member of the opposition party as is the case currently.
2.2FUNCTIONS OF THE COMMITTEE In terms of Standing Order 105.3, the function of the PAC is to examine, after the end of each financial year: The accounts and statements prepared and signed by the Accountant General in accordance with the provisions of the Finance and Audit Act, The accounts prepared and signed in accordance with the same act by any officer, other than the Accountant General, who is by virtue of any law responsible for 5the administration of any special fund. Such other accounts, value for money and management performance reports laid before the National Assembly as may be referred to it by the Assembly. In examining all the above accounts and reports, the Committee takes into account, but not limited to, the report of the Auditor General. The Committee reports the results of its examinations to the National Assembly and makes such recommendations in respect thereto as it considers necessary.
2.2 FUNCTIONS OF THE COMMITTEE cont…. As can be observed from its mandate, the Botswana PAC examines the accounts of the Central Government Ministries and Departments, accounts of Special Funds and value for money audit reports emanating from the audits of the same entities. Examination of accounts and other reports in respect of State Owned Enterprises is done by another Committee known as the Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises which operates in a similar way to the PAC while the accounts and reports relating to Local Authorities are examined by a third Committee known as the Local Authorities Public Accounts Committee (LAPAC). The reports of the PAC and Committee on State Owned Enterprises are debated in Parliament while those of LAPAC are discussed with the Local Authorities and end up in the hands of the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development.
2.3 POWERS OF THE COMMITTEE The Committee has powers to send for papers, persons and records as it may require and can undertake study visits, for instance during follow up of projects. It is not allowed for the Committee to sit when Parliament is in session unless there is something urgent to be attended to.
3.COMMITTEE’S EXAMINATION METHODOLOGY Up until May 2012, the Committee had been holding its examinations of Government accounts in camera. In 2012 the Committee held its examination of accounts in public for the first time and this was very much appreciated by the public as a step in the right direction. This attracted a very impressive response from the media. The PAC report which emanated from that examination was also presented at a press conference in an effort to enhance information dissemination, transparency and accountability.
4.RESOURCES The Botswana PAC is not well resourced. On the financial side it receives support from the budget provision allocated to Parliament as a Government department. This emanates from the lack of independence of the Legislature as the third arm of Government. In other words even though Parliament approves the national budget, it does not have its own budget as an independent institution but depends on the budget which is controlled by the Executive. This situation constraints the activities of the PAC, for instance, it cannot provide the necessary capacity building for the Members; it cannot engage support staff adequate for its needs, etc. The Botswana PAC is supported by five support staff that carry out secretarial duties and two research officers. Unfortunately these secretaries are not dedicated to the PAC alone but service a number of other Committees as well. This arrangement does not work quite well for the efficiency and effectiveness of the Committee.
4.RESOURCES cont…. In addition, the Auditor General has seconded one of his senior officers to provide on the ground technical support to the Committee on a full time basis. This officer works as a liaison officer between Auditor General and the Committee and also between Government Ministries and departments and the Committee. He coordinates the activities of the Committee, liaises with local and external stakeholders in connection with activities like capacity building workshops, conferences, etc. Furthermore, the office of the Auditor General is the main provider of technical support and advice. The Auditor General in person or a representative at senior level is always in attendance at the hearings of the Committee. The Accountant General or his representative is also always in attendance at the hearings to respond to any queries which may be raised in connection with the accounts. Last but not least, the Attorney General is also represented to provide answers to any questions relating to legal issues.
5.PAC REPORT At the end of its examinations the Committee produces a report on its findings and makes recommendations thereto as it considers necessary. Unfortunately there is no legal obligation on the Executive to implement these recommendations. However, since the Committee makes a follow up on the progress made on these recommendations at the next PAC sitting, the Accounting Officers are left with no choice but to implement them and report progress made in resolving the matters involved. This follow up procedure is the key to the effectiveness of our PAC.
6.CONCLUSION What would be considered an effective Public Accounts Committee (PAC)? Suppose the committee helps improve public services, but in the process it embarrasses the government: would this be considered a success? The success in Parliament is often seen in partisan terms, assessing the impact and effectiveness of Public Accounts Committees requires careful consideration. The line between a Committee Member and a Member of a political party should be clearly cut. It is very important for the Committee Members to know and understand the mandate of the Committee so as to efficiently perform their role. The effectiveness of PAC is measure by the way in which the Committee conducts its oversight role and how they hold the Executive accountable for the use of public funds. Efficient accountability is dependent on effective oversight, which could improve proper management and use of public resources. This means that effective oversight promotes efficient use of public funds for effective service delivery of which restores public confidence over government. The ability for the PACs to ensure that the resolutions are implemented demonstrates the effectiveness of the Committee. However, it is imperative that PACs are well capacitated and well resources to effectively implement their mandate.
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