Is the PAAC safe in Dr Wykeham McNeill's hands?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Wykeham McNeill is doing a splendid job as chairman of the 54-year-old Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament.

Dr McNeill has been sharp and clinical in shining the light on areas of the public service in which corruption or the stench of it has reared its ugly head, making the committee an essential tool in the State's arsenal against abuse and misuse of public resources.

The PAAC, not a sexy name by any means, is not an anti-corruption agency per se. Its job is to help keep the Government efficient and honest in how State resources are appropriated in keeping with parliamentary approval.

It must aggressively monitor expenditure as it occurs and keep the Parliament informed of how the budget is being implemented; and it must enquire into the administration of the Government what may be causing inefficiencies, making recommendations for improvement when necessary.

Much of the recent exposure of developments leading to high-profile resignations and triggering investigations into suspicious activities at State agencies including Petrojam and National Energy Solutions Limited (NESol), and prior to that the business of the $600-million bushing project, is to the credit of the PAAC.

This nation must thank former Prime Minister Bruce Golding for implementing the practice of having an Opposition MP chair the PAAC and other watchdog committees, like the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The executive branch of Government and the Cabinet cannot be asked to operate the necessary checks and balances that are key features of the Westminster model of democracy by which we conduct government.

It gets better when the chairman believes in the concept and takes the job of protecting the public's interest, in the way that Dr McNeill is currently doing. We certainly hope that he continues in this vein.

What we hope as well is that he does not get carried away and begin to lose focus, now that the PAAC has decided, with the blessings of the International Monetary Fund, to monitor spending by government agencies more closely.

One knows the temptation to use the task of PAAC chairman as a tool of the Opposition party to attempt to weaken and embarrass the Government, with an eye to the next election. This surely would play into the hands of those who were always seeking an excuse to change the rules of the game.

Under no circumstances should the Government revert to having the PAAC, or the other parliamentary watchdog committees chaired by members of the ruling party. It would be short-sighted and disastrous.

However painful it becomes for the governing party, it must always bear in mind that its time would come, when in Opposition, it holds the handle. How true it is that the 'same knife stick sheep, stick goat' and 'today fi mi tomorrow fi yuh'.

In Dr McNeill's hands resides an awesome responsibility. He cannot, indeed, he must not drop the ball.

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