28 August 2012

The Return of the Public Accounts Committee #nlpoli

Supporters of the current governing party like to talk about how theirs is the most open, accountable and transparent government of all time.

Problem for them is that they cannot prove it.

Those of us who don’t believe that claim have a distinct advantage:  we can offer solid evidence about the the current lack of openness, accountability and transparency.

We can look at the sittings of the House of Assembly:  among the least number of sitting days of any provincial or territorial legislature in the country.

And among committees of legislatures, the one responsible for keeping an eye on public spending hasn’t sat publicly since 2006 [More details:  CBC and Telegram, has scarcely met at all since then either, and has been largely dysfunctional for the dozen years or more.

If you want to get a sense of how bad things have been, take a look at the report by Chief Justice Derek Green after the public learned of the decade-long patronage orgy the members had run for themselves:
i) PAC Meetings – Infrequent 
There is no set schedule of meetings or agenda for the Public Accounts Committee.  The Committee meets when it deems necessary at the call of the Chair or Vice-Chair. In the seven years from 2000 to 2006 the PAC has met an average of about four times a year. I have  noted with interest that the Committee only met once in 2001, the year following the amendments to Internal Economy Commission Act. Of greater significance is the frequency of public hearings conducted by the PAC. In this regard, information provided by the staff of the  House of Assembly indicates the record of hearings is as follows:  
2000 – 5
2001 – None
2002 – 3
2003 – 4
2004 – None
2005 – 1
2006 – 1 
There have only been two public hearings in the last three calendar years. Accordingly, it is reasonable to conclude that the PAC has been virtually inactive in terms of  public discussion of the fiscal affairs of government in recent years.
On Wednesday, the public accounts committee will hold its first public hearing since 2006.  The member with the most experience in the House is Liberal Ed Joyce, who sat in the House from 1999 until the 2007 general election.  He’s the only one who can claim to have sat in the House or been even around the House when the public accounts committee last worked properly.

Conservatives Sandy Collins and David Brazil have been in the legislature since about 2009.  They can’t claim any direct knowledge of a properly functioning PAC.  There is little to be optimistic from either of them since they have been enthusiastic and unquestioning supporters of the caucus that helped demolish the committee and bring the House low over the past decade.  The other members – Conservative and New Democrat – are simply too new to the House to sit on one of its key committees.

The first meeting of the PAC is welcome news to those of us who are concerned to see the openness, transparency and genuine public accountability return to government in our province.

Given the current political climate and the lack of experience of its members, they go at their duties with way more good wishes than experience and the committee membership might suggest is warranted.

If they fail,  it will not be from a lack of prayer and finger crossing from this corner.