Strengthening Public Accounts Committees Considered at South-South Exchange
Wellington, New Zealand — Strengthening the functioning of Public Accounts Committees (PAC) is essential for Pacific Parliaments to effectively scrutinize public finances.
The role of PACs in most Pacific countries covers two key aspects of the budget cycle – firstly, scrutinizing the proposed national budget, and secondly, providing oversight of the application of the budget and oversight of public expenditure.
Such committees are however subject to the same constraints as that of Parliaments themselves, that is in many cases, the lack of capacity and expertise to perform their role fully.
A two-day capacity building seminar for PAC members from the Parliaments of Cook Islands, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa with the aim of building the capacity of the committee leadership and their support staff is currently underway in Wellington, New Zealand.
“Parliamentary strengthening is a vital part of good governance,” said the Assistant Secretary of the Pacific and Development Group of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Andrew Needs, in his welcome address to delegates of the seminar.
He added, “parliaments can be powerful agents of change, and strong democracies depend on effective law making, oversight, and representation.”
“Public Accounts Committees are a particularly important part of the oversight system. They help ensure that government’s finances are managed effectively which is essential for sustainable economic management and the delivery of public services like health and education,” said Needs.
The setting and structure of the seminar facilitates an ideal south-south learning platform for regional PAC members and their secretariat staff.
“The strengthening of PAC is essential when considering the general aim of strengthening Public Financial Management (PFM) systems of each country,” said Effective Governance Team Leader, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji, Dyfan Jones.
“There is a lot of good practice ongoing in different Pacific Parliaments and this is an opportunity for participants to share experiences on what works, the issues they face and to see how other Pacific Island countries are overcoming some of these challenges.”
He added, “It is expected that at the end of this seminar, PAC committees will be better placed to plan how they can fulfil their role with increased efficiency and effectiveness during the PFM cycle, especially regarding their capacity to contribute to the budget process and relate their work on the budget with national priorities and policies.”
“Options for further strengthening activities for PAC, regional cooperation and international support will also be laid out in an action plan.”
The second day of the seminar will see participants visit the New Zealand House of Representatives and their select committees, particularly, the Finance and Expenditure Committees to see how the New Zealand Parliament undertakes its financial oversight duties.
This capacity building for PAC members and secretariat staff is delivered through the UNDP Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative (PPEI) which is implemented with funding from the Government of New Zealand, the Fiji Parliament Support project which is implemented with funding from the Governments of New Zealand and Australia, and the UNDP regional programme which is funded by the Government of Australia.