NATION

Narube: Accountability Undermined

This is a statement issued by the Unity Fiji party leader Savenaca Narube. The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of Mr Narube and Unity Fiji party
09 Jun 2018 10:00
Narube: Accountability Undermined
Unity Fiji leader, Savenaca Narube. PHOTO: Unity Fiji

This is a statement issued by the Unity Fiji party leader Savenaca Narube. The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of Mr Narube and Unity Fiji party and not of the Fiji Sun.

 

One of the central pillars of democracy is accountability. People vote a government into power through free and fair elections who, in turn, must be accountable to the people.

Unlike a company, Government does not generate its own revenue but relies on taxes that are paid by the people.

Government borrows money, but it is the people who repays the debt.

Accountability therefore plays an important role in the governance of the country.

It is extremely important that people vote for leaders who, among other things, value, and practise accountability to the people.

 

System of Accountability

There are three arms of national governance–the Executive who runs the Government, the Lawmakers elected by the people who makes the laws (Parliament), and the Judiciary who interpret the law.

These three arms of governance play a vital role in maintaining the balance between authority and accountability.

In my experience in the civil service, the British had left with us a strong framework for accountability.

There was a clear demarcation of the roles of ministers and the civil service. The ministers (Cabinet) make policies and the civil service implements them.

The Parliament authorises the Executive to spend tax payers’ monies through its budget approval.

In turn, Parliament scrutinises the use of taxpayers’ money by the Executive through its watchdog, the Auditor General (AG).

Systems and processes were put in place by the British to support the integrity of this accountability framework.

It must be a serious concern to the people to see this strong accountability framework being seriously undermined by this Government.

 

Independence

To enable institutions to fully undertake their responsibilities under this accountability structure, they must be independent of government.

This independence is guaranteed in two ways.

First, the independence of the appointing authority of the heads of these organisations and second the prevention of the interference by Government in undertaking their work.

Sadly, we see the long arm of government compromising the independence of institutions that protects accountability.

 

Constitutional Officers

Commission

The Constitutional Offices Commission (COC) appoints important positions such as the A-G and the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

The COC must be independent from Government.

Under the 1997 Constitution, the President appointed the members of the COC.

In contrast, the 2013 Constitution institutionalises the Prime Minister as the chairperson and the Attorney-General as a member.

Moreover, in the past, most of the members of the COC were from outside government. Now, the Government members are the majority. It is extremely ironic that these are the people that these positions should be independent from.

 

Public Accounts Committee

Parliament plays an important role in scrutinising the operation of the government by debating and approving the national budget, and in scrutinising the reports of the A-G.

Parliament appoints a standing committee called the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to help it scrutinise the budget and the audit reports.

Because of its functions, the chair of the PAC is, by convention, a member of the Opposition.

After the 2014 elections, Professor Biman Prasad was appointed the chairperson of the PAC but was quickly removed after he threatened to summon ministers to answer to the committee.

Since then, a government member of Parliament is the chairperson. How can the Committee be independent in scrutinising the operations of Government if the person chairing this committee is one of the boys?

 

Auditor-General

The Auditor-General is the people’s ears and eyes on how Government spends our money. The A-G reports directly to the Speaker.

The A-G’s reports are full of incidents where there have been serious breaches of proper financial procedures.

The test of the independence of the AG was his withdrawal of his 2016 reports because of what he claimed were ‘errors’.

 

Procurement

Procurement is the riskiest area of Government spending. Government expenditure is increasing rapidly and almost all the non-salary expenditure go through the procurement processes.

It is therefore critical that we restrain political interference in the awards of tenders and contracts.

Yet we see the interference of Government in the awards of contracts.

The procurement laws and regulations are too liberal in allowing the minister to interfere in the procurement process.

This is one of the main causes of the low quality of government expenditure. The best way to protect the integrity of the procurement process is transparency.

The powers of the minister to intervene in the awards of tenders and contracts should be limited and, in addition, all waivers of procurement regulations by the Minister should be published.

There is a lot of merit of the saying that a government should be by the people and for the people.

Tragically for Fiji, we have a Government that thinks and acts like it is not accountable to anyone let alone the people.

We should restore the integrity of the system of accountability of Government to the people to safeguard our financial stability. Any Government should put people first.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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