May 10, 2012, 2:28 PM
The members of the Public Accounts Committee and Public Enterprises Committee (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly on Wednesday embarked on a retreat at the Corinthia Atlantic Hotel in Banjul to review, validate and adopt the draft PAC/PEC Joint Session Report for 2009 on the annual reports, accounts and financial statements of public enterprises and agencies of the Gambia government.
The retreat was said to be the first of its kind in the history of the National Assembly, in particular the two select committees, and they were joined by subject-matter specialists, aides and others. The two-day retreat was funded by the UNDP Support for the Capacity Development of the National Assembly.
In her keynote address, at the start of the retreat, the Speaker of the National Assembly Hon. Elizabeth F.Y. Renner, who also doubles as the chairperson of the joint session, said that lawful parliamentary oversight is a necessity and integral part of every democracy. She pointed out that the PAC/PEC joint sessions are not only necessary, but legitimate and sanctioned by statute.
"It's a task we have to carry out as mandated by the Constitution, the highest law in the country," she said.
"Thus, as the highest oversight body over public services, we are not only to be pre-occupied with the accuracy of the figures and accounts, as that is the task of financial and accounting auditors and is being ably performed by the National Audit Office (NAO) or its outsourced private audit firms that routinely conduct audit checks on public enterprise and agencies.
"We therefore should be much more concerned with the adequacy or otherwise of the system, processes, practices and programmes that are jointly and severally put in place as policy measures and interventions by the government, and the other stakeholders," she added.
Speaker Renner revealed that a total of 45 public enterprises and agencies had been scheduled to appear before the committee, but for reasons and circumstances beyond their control only 39 public enterprises and agencies were considered, and only 35 had their reports adopted.
According to the speaker, the retreat was a move in the right direction and a practice to be nurtured in future sessions of the PAC/PEC. It was designed to accord the National Assembly members, subject-matter specialists and other aides to the PAC/PEC Joint Session the opportunity to convene and deliberate over the draft report of their 2009 joint session, which because of submission problems had to roll-over to February 2010.
In conclusion, Speaker Renner reiterated that "the National Assembly as people’s representatives will continue to play its oversight role, and ensure that the taxpayers have maximum value for money."
Speaking earlier, Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta, the Majority Leader and member for Serrekunda East constituency, said it is a constitutional requirement for the public enterprises and agencies to submit their reports to the National Assembly to enable them scrutinise and exercise their oversight functions on behalf of the Gambian people.
He maintained that those entrusted with the administration and management of the public funds should strictly adhere to the rules and regulations governing them. He also noted that for public enterprises and agencies to submit their report to the Assembly is not a witch-hunting exercise. He said the Assembly could not continue to overlook financial errors and irregularities from public institutions, and as the people’s representatives they cannot continue to observe irregularities and errors without making specific recommendations to ensure a stop to them.
Hon. Momodou L.K. Sanneh, the Minority Leader and Member for Kiang West constituency, said that Sections 102, 109 and 110 of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia gave power to the Assembly's PAC/PEC joint committee to convene meetings and consider annual reports, accounts and financial statements, including external auditors and management letters of all public enterprises and agencies.
It is the responsibility of the Assembly to check and balance all government, parastatals and agencies accounts, he said, adding that it is not a witch-hunt, but a constitutional mandate for the members of the National Assembly.