Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Working or dodging Parliament?

Published:Tuesday | January 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The dismal attendance record of some members of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament (PAAC) is a worrying situation that points to the poor management of public-sector accountability and oversight in this country.

The PAAC has an important oversight role to ensure that expenditure by government ministries, agencies and departments is in accordance with parliamentary approval. Albeit the examination comes after the expenditure has been done, yet there is no denying that the proper running of the PAAC is critical to an effective governance system.

Shamefully, some members have been reported absent more than 60 per cent of the time. If members are consistently absent from meetings, it means the committee does not benefit from their ideas and views and they are also not participating in the kind of in-depth examination of issues that is required to determine how taxpayers' money has been spent.

Given the current relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it is critical that government expenditure be kept in check and that all the key players understand their responsibilities in helping to achieve the goals that have been set.

Public-accounts committees are found in most Westminster-type parliaments, with the mandate to scrutinise public expenditure and enforce accountability. Judging from the feeble self-serving responses given to this newspaper by members with poor attendance records, it is clear that some of our public servants do not understand the responsibilities of good governance. Many of them, new to Parliament, appear not to understand their role as the people's representatives and how it impacts on the management of the economy.

The responses demonstrate another important thing. Good governance can only work if it is part and parcel of the culture. The political culture suggests that although persons have offered themselves for public service, and are being paid to perform a job it may not be their number-one priority. The 'hustler' mentality has found its way into Gordon House, so a Member of parliament, who is a farmer, has no time for parliamentary matters at crop time. His priority is in reaping his crops.

GOOD GOVERNANCE

Good governance has everything to do with performance. And governance is really about the way public servants make decisions and implement policies. How must the public place its confidence in the work of the PAAC when its members are often absent? And how are public sector agencies to take Parliament seriously when committee members demonstrate their own lack of interest through their absence?

There is anecdotal evidence that truancy is also present in the House of Representatives. Observing members from week to week, some give the impression that they have been dragged forcibly into Gordon House. The body language and expressions of some parliamentarians emit an air of boredom and disinterest. Too often, we see parliamentarians passing the time on their smartphones and tablets while important debates are taking place. It is a shameful display which cuts across party lines.

If it is the case that there are too many committees, and members are stretched too thinly, then there is need to review the system, perhaps have fewer sittings or shorter sessions. And members who fail to attend sessions on a regular basis should be dismissed.

Public servants enjoy a huge bundle of perks and benefits to perform a job on behalf of the people. They should, therefore, exhibit proper governance behaviour and show their commitment to the objectives of accountability and transparency. They ought to take their responsibilities seriously and actively participate in the governance process. If they find this to be an intrusion on their private life, they should be shown the exit.