The first meeting of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu was held Friday and elected Opposition Member of Parliament Ephraim Kalsakau its Chairman.
The other members of the PAC are Bob Loughman (MP), Ian Wilson (MP), Fred William Tasso (MP), Isaac Tongolilu (MP), and Joshua Kalsakau (MP). When Daily Post visited the Committee at session, Government member Bob Loughman had just left the room for an urgent meeting.
“This first meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, in line with the legal process, the committee must elect me the Chairman and agreed on some letters to the Speaker and to Parliament to introduce the new chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. And to request the Speaker that as from now onwards every financial report that goes to Parliament must come from the Public Accounts Committee,” the new Chairman of PAC said.
The PAC also used this opportunity to call the Auditor General, Caleb Sandy, to appear before the Committee to be quizzed on work that had taken place recently. And mainly for the Committee to tell him that PAC wished to work with him to carry out the tasks that the people of the country require of us, Chairman Kalsakau added.
He said that at the next sessions onward the Committee will tackle some outstanding issues that the public are so concerned about.
“We have summoned the Auditor General to appear in person at this stage of the Committee’s meetings to impression on him that we wished to work together with him and his staff.”
The committee understands that in the last 37 years of Independence only 4 reports of the Public Accounts Committee that were completed managed to reach Parliament. The Public Accounts Committees are required under law to produce these reports. Because the Committee has been in existence for 37 years, we should expect 37 reports.
There were other reports that were completed but they never reached Parliament.
Through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, UNDP provided assistance to the PAC through the Office of the Speaker, by engaging former Australian Federal MP, Robert Oakeshott, to provide advice to the PAC members. Mr. Oakeshott has undertaken a lot of work on public accounts assisting many Parliaments of Pacific Island countries.
UNDP funded his trip as part of the Parliamentary Strengthening Program to come to Vanuatu to assist the Public Accounts Committee helping out where he can.
“I spend most times with Public Accounts Committees. I do advising and giving options because Public Accounts Committee is a political space and as a former member of Parliament, it’s probably a rare number of people who can give advice on what to do in certain situations, when it is political advice,” Mr. Oakeshott said.
“For example, at the UNDP we have to give technical or very objective advice as a contractor for Parliamentary Strengthening in this area. I can provide that advice as also in Fiji, PNG, Cook Islands, in Australia or New Zealand, this is how they deal with this particular issue and provide them with some options.
“As quite often politics tries to get in the way of the work of oversight and it’s important that the members of Parliament have the skills to push back to get the job done for, in this case, the people of Vanuatu.”
Mr. Oakeshott’s visit follows a needs assessment of the Vanuatu Parliament that was done by the IPU team of expert last week and this was an issue that was raised and Mr. Oakeshott was very quickly sought and engaged.
Auditor General Sandy said it was good that he and his team came before this first meeting of the committee because his office connects in a big way with the Public Accounts Committee.
“The effectiveness of the Auditor General depends in a big way on the Office of the Public Accounts Committee. So, it was good for us to come and strengthen this relationship. There is much to do and it was important for us to work closely with them (PAC) to make progress on some of the issues before the Committee.”