The second meeting of the Executive Committee (ExCo)of the newly-formed Commonwealth Association of Public Accounts Committees (CAPAC) took place in the Palace of Westminster, London, on 20 October 2015. The meeting was hosted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (UK Branch) which is also providing the interim secretariat for the Association.
The aim of CAPAC, whose foundation has been welcomed by the Commonwealth Secretariat, is to ensure that all Commonwealth Parliaments, and the citizens they serve, benefit from strong and independent Public Accounts or equivalent committees to sustain and promote the highest principles of public finance. Present were CAPAC ExCo members from Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Malta and Uganda. Members from Sierra Leone and Pakistan joined in on Skype, a piece of remote working that worked well.
ExCo warmly welcomed progress on establishment of CAPAC. There are now 24 CAPAC members and interest is growing. All Commonwealth PACs are invited to join.
The meeting considered and approved a CAPAC workplan for the next two years. One important project will be the development of a set of PAC principles and standards which could be used to encourage governments and parliaments to support the independence of PACs and to provide PACs with the resources they need to hold governments to account successfully. The CAPAC standards will also be employed as benchmarks to aid committees in their development through self-assessment, training and other capacity-building measures such as peer reviews. A working group has been set up to take this work forward.
As well as standards of practice for committees as a whole, CAPAC will propose a code of conduct for individual members. This is important, as there are special difficulties when conflicts of interest arise for PAC members; the financial aspects of PAC work introduce special sensitivities not faced by other Members of Parliament. The Committee noted that cultural variations between countries and regions meant that these principles can be applied in a number of different ways. Partly with this in mind, ExCo decided to seek the views of all Commonwealth countries in developing the standards through a process of wide consultation.
ExCo members recognised that CAPAC had very limited resources and was keen not to duplicate the excellent work already going on at regional level. Collaborating with regional bodies to widen knowledge of the emerging CAPAC approach will therefore be a practical way forward. So liaison with regional PAC bodies is already an important and active part of the work of CAPAC. The meeting heard that the Chair, Hon. Tonio Fenech of Malta, took part remotely in the meeting in New Zealand of the new Pacific Network of PACs (PanPAC) in August, and would be giving a presentation on CAPAC at the Annual Conference and General Meeting of the Eastern Africa Association of Public Accounts Committees (EAAPAC) in Khartoum, Sudan, end of October. A discussion of CAPAC will also take place at the inaugural meeting of the Caribbean Network of PACs (CarNPAC) in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in November.
The meeting also accepted that Supreme Audit Institutions have an important role in the work of PACs and considered the possibility of arranging observer status for a representative of Commonwealth Auditors-General at future CAPAC meetings.
There was discussion over what kind of administrative support structure would be needed for CAPAC. There was general agreement that a lean secretariat would be best, but a recognition that every organisation needs some continuity of administration which could ensure that information flowed to CAPAC members and events were efficiently organised. The Parliament of Malta came forward and offered to host a small secretariat CAPACCU for the next four years. This kind and generous offer was gratefully accepted.
Prepared by Niall Johnston, World Bank Parliamentary Strengthening Programme and Philip Aylett, Secretary, Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Association of Public Accounts Committees (CAPAC)