Let good sense prevail
The recent call by the Chair of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) for the Auditor General (AG) to appear “in person” at the Committee sittings is not a good one.
We say so because while the PAC Chair could be right “by law”, yet there are those who see it differently and that number seems to be growing by the day.
We concede that the head of the institution is, and should be held responsible for the “legitimate” actions of the institution, – in this case the entirety of what is contained in the Auditor General’s Report, and rightly so.
If the report bears mistakes, miscalculations, bad spelling, omissions perceived to be deliberate; opinions seemingly unjustified or slanted in an unfair way, and so on and so forth – then by all means the AG should be held accountable and must stand accused.
We however believe that in the case of those situations as highlighted above, parliament or the PAC must first identify those situations and if they meet a certain threshold (and this is very important) then the AG must be placed in the witness box and treated as an accused.
While the intention might not be to treat the AG as an accused, but rather to have her present to help in making sense of her report, the public perception is quickly being interpreted in a different light, which does not augur well for the credibility and integrity of the PAC.
The point here is no one should expect that the AG herself should be in the field visiting offices to look at receipts and records. At her level she “delegates” that responsibility. At the end of the day, we believe the Audit team presents a report to the AG detailing their experiences and findings in the field. But to be fair, no official sitting in the office (as in the case of the AG) can adequately explain what transpired in the field better than the field staff.
That is why we believe that the Deputy Auditor General who supervised, and was actively part of the field staff, should be the person assisting the PAC during Committee meetings (as it has been the case ever since) – that is if the intention of the PAC, is to be guided in their investigations of the findings in the report.
Although the PAC Chair is a brilliant lawyer and can persuasively present a case justifying the need for the AG to be ‘present in person’ in the Committee sittings; that case may sadly NEVER be won in the Court of Public Opinion.
We have seen the results of perception surveys (Afro-barometer etc.) and we are aware Parliament has not featured favourably in the area of corruption.
Bluntly put, following social media posts attacking the integrity of the AG, the view on the streets (Public Perception) is that the call by the PAC Chair for the AG to be present-in-person is an attempt to intimidate her. This might not be the PAC Chair’s intention, but that is the perception, and he might do well not to ignore public perception. Donald Trump ignored public perception, and he ended up losing the Presidency, the Senate and fatally damaging the standing of his political party.
The PAC already has a good standing in the eyes of the public given the energetic and non-compromising way it has handled the last report. Already there are suggestions that most of the earlier mistakes have not been repeated, and this may well be credited to the work of the PAC. Therefore, it must be mindful of maintaining that level of trust and not by its own actions inadvertently undermine its own good standing.
The way to address the negative and seeming unpopular fall out of the AG’s report is to do what the Financial Secretary has done. That is the right and proper way to go. Read the riot act and move to address the problems, with an honest intention to see improvements. Any action on the contrary is already being tagged as “Corruption fighting back.”
Surely Parliament would like to be seen as fighting corruption and rightly so. That is why we applaud the PAC Chair for promising to go after all the MPs to ensure that they all account for the portion they received from the Le22 billion Facilitation/Development Fund (as captured in the Audit Report).
No one is perfect. Therefore we must be careful what we call for. Today it is the AG, tomorrow citizens might use this same example and reasoning to call for President Bio to answer for the actions of the Lands Minister. No explanation will be tolerated, because a precedent has been set.
Parliament must help to build strong institutions like the Auditor General’s office not be seen to be undermining its integrity and independence as is being perceived now. The PAC must step back from its call. We pray that good sense will prevail in the interest of our country.