St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): “There is a view, perhaps a view which has come from the unsettling position in which some members find themselves, that the Public Accounts Committee is an arena for political grandstanding. Oh no, no, no” said Prime Minister Timothy Harris as he led the debate Thursday (August 10), on the Public Accounts Committee Bill.

Dr Harris told Parliament that the proposed legislation seeks to bring into being and set the legal framework for a proper Public Accounts Committee.

According to the Prime Minister, that parliamentary body is not intended to be a partisan committee.

“It has never been and it will never be. It is not an arena for political grandstanding and I want to go back indeed to the Westminster tradition and to quote from the Right Honourable Harold Wilson who at the time way back in the period ‘59 to ’63, I think it was, who served as the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer or what we would call the Minister of Finance. He said ‘I am sure that I speak for all honourable members, certainly I know that I speak for all members of the Public Accounts Committee when I say that I do not regard this debate as one that should take on party lines’. In other words, when you become a member of the Public Accounts Committee you are a member of the House and the parties and politics by and large, is locked out of the deliberations of the committee.”

The Public Accounts Committee will comprise of five members – three from the government side and two from the opposition benches.

The bill stipulates that the leader of the opposition will have the option of being its Chairman.

The list of government officials who can be called as witnesses before the committee was emphasized by Prime Minister Harris.

“Mr. Speaker, the persons who could be summoned before the Public Accounts Committee are listed, the Director of Audit, the Financial Secretary, the Accountant General etc, are the only persons who can be called before the Public Accounts Committee. And there is a reason for this, it is the Director of Audit’s report that should provide the impetus for the work of the Public Accounts Committee so the Director of Audit can be in attendance or one of his nominees, so he can explain he can advise, he can elucidate on any matter coming out of that report. The Financial Secretary of course, is the most senor of the civil servants engaged in the financial management of the country and it is the Accountant General that prepares the accounts. So these are the critical people that you need and our legislation then went to the heart of the matter and made these persons to be available.”

The Prime Minister during his debate presentation was sidetracked by taunts from the opposition benches to the effect that he while he was criticizing the former administration for the then Public Accounts Committee not having been functional, Dr. Harris had been both a member of that administration and a member of the committee.

He had this response “I left there to consecrate the future and I left you over there now because I have consecrated the future. I am proud of my involvement in the political life, I am proud that I was wise enough to know when enough was enough and to leave.”

Ken Richards
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