For the past few days, we have been reporting on the social partners, putting the Prime Minister on blast for shady land dealings which happened under former Lands Minister, Gaspar Vega.
But, what has gotten less attention is the fact that the Chamber, the PSU and the BNTU have also called on Prime Minister Barrow to reform the Public Accounts Committee. That's the house committee, led by the PUP's Julius Espat, with majority representation from the UDP. The social partners have been demanding to be added to that group, and last year, during the teacher's strike the Prime Minister agreed to do so.
Earlier this week, the Chamber said, quote, "Belize's governance structureâ€¦already allows for checks and balances through the Supreme Audit Institution, the Public Accounts Committee and the Integrity Commission."
The release continues, quote, "political expediency and interference have rendered these bodies almost completely ineffective. The latter two bodies have had absolutely no effect in checking corruption in the public sector..."
It adds, quote, "The BCCI reminds Prime Minister Barrow...that almost exactly one year ago he committed to having the Laws redrafted to have the Public Accounts Committee re- configured for the inclusion of Social Partner Senators. The public should take very seriously the fact that to date, this task remains incomplete....Inaction by the GOB on the abuse of our natural and fiscal resources is no longer acceptable." End quote.
The Public Service Union hit a similar note, saying, quote, "The Union calls for the urgent reactivation of the Integrity Commission and the Public Accounts Committee. These bodies must be allowed to carry out their functions in a fair and impartial manner and without undue political influence."
But, getting politics out of a House Committee, is like taking sugar out of an ideal. And when the Public Accounts Committee met on Monday of this week to discuss the Auditor General's latest report - it was business as usual. The opposition wanted public hearings to discuss the Auditor General's report - but the government majority - all ministers - voted that down, insisting that the meeting be private as per the standing orders. We are told they said it was a cabinet position not to have public hearings. This is after the Prime Minister told the media 13 days ago that public hearings were fine by him:...
FILE: August 18, 2017
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow- Prime Minister
"The public accounts committee, the chairman has already signaled, will be meeting shortly, and will go through the report in a way that will see the public being able to follow along and to be educated as to what is exactly on the report and as to any possible explanations there might be. That is how it should be and that's how it is."
Hon. John Briceno, PUP Party Leader
"He decided that he agree that he was going to take a number of steps. For instance, the Public Accounts Committee that he was going to reconfigure it, that it was going to be open to the public and now here we are several more than a year later, nothing has happened and just on Monday his ministers decided that they are not going to have open meetings in the public for the Public Accounts Committee."
The Committee will meet twice in October and once in November to consider the audit.