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Francis – We have nothing to hide

Francis – We have nothing to hide

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This country’s Minister of Transport, Works, Urban Development and Local Government Senator Julian Francis maintains that the government has nothing to hide.{{more}}

This is in relation to the removal of two special audits from the agenda of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which met, after years of inactivity, on November 3, 2011.

There has been no meeting of the PAC since 2005.

The audits in question dealt with the Ministry of Health’s ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ report and an audit relating to the Ministry of Agriculture, involving the then Permanent Secretary, Allan Alexander.

Chairman of the PAC and Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace had earlier indicated that he intended to call a meeting to discuss issues relating to the late receipt of government’s late financial reports, and the two special audits.

However, a statement posted on the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) website indicated that during the meeting, members representing the government questioned whether or not the guidelines for the functioning of the PAC had been approved by Parliament.

“These are the same guidelines which had been used to hold Public Accounts Committee meetings since 1989,” the statement from the NDP indicated.

However, government members sought the removal of the two special audits from the agenda, with the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the PAC Nicole Herbert charged with the task of checking the records of Parliament to determine if the guidelines had indeed been approved, and if so, when.

But according to Francis, who sits on the committee, when he examined a copy of the guidelines, he realized that the document was dated June 1989.

He told SEARCHLIGHT that he then inquired whether or not the guidelines were in fact a document from the House.

According to Francis, the Clerk of the House was unable to produce any records to prove that it was a document of the House.

“We are guided by two matters – the standing orders of the House of Assembly and the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Francis explained.

He contended that the Constitution clearly states that the Public Accounts Committee was to examine the last annual accounts of the government that had been tabled in Parliament.

“If the auditor is finished with accounts and it is not yet tabled in the House, the Public Accounts Committee cannot discuss it. That is why in the Constitution, if the Minister of Finance does not table the Director of Audit’s report, the Director of Audit can send it to the Clerk to be tabled,” Francis explained.

Section 75(5) of the constitution states that “if the Minister fails to lay a report before the House in accordance with the provisions of subsection (4) of this section, the Director of Audit shall transmit copies of that report to the Speaker who shall soon as practicable present them to the House.”

“No other motion, no other subject, no other report can be discussed at the Public Accounts Committee unless it has been tabled in the House of Assembly,” the Minister of Transport, Works etc explained.

He further contended that those two documents could not be discussed and the agenda was amended.

“There is no motive from members of the government side, we have to follow regulations,” Francis told SEARCHLIGHT.

According to him, Section 69 of the Standing Orders of the House clearly states how the PAC is supposed to function.

He refuted the claim made in the statement posted on the NDP’s website that the government representatives were afraid of what the examination would reveal, saying that there was nothing to be afraid of when discussing the accounts of the government.

“We are transparent and open and we follow procedures and rules and orders.”

“We cannot go into subject matters at the whim and fancies of individuals; we are a nation of laws and particularly so the Constitution,” Francis said. (DD)

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