Beware, here comes PAC
Talk of town has been about the new Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the heavy-handedness with which they have been handling public officials appearing before this body.
The new Accounts committee has been grilling officials as it seeks to unearth some irregularities mentioned in the 2009/2010 Auditor General’s report where close to Rwf 9.7 billion is not properly accounted for.
In our Parliamentary democracy, PAC is a new concept. But the momentum and openness with which it started its business, is simply a shocker many. The grilling is tough and presents a hair-raising moment simply because the style and tone of interrogation is something most officials are not accustomed to.
It took many by surprise and left those in queue wishing for the ‘cup of suffering’ to be postponed or completely done away with.
And yet though PAC’s work method might be new, its contribution to the existing measures of fighting corruption cannot be underrated. It comes to tighten up the loose knots and adds value to the existing measures.
Often a time, the public is left unaware of what proceeds Auditor General’s report soon after its first reading on the floor of parliament. The little we get to know is a few news bites or office corridor rumours of the Chief Prosecutor summoning or interrogating certain individuals. We do not get to know the nitty-gritty of the underlying issues and the gravity of some crimes.
What PAC brings on board as a new thing, is the candidness or openness in probing further some issues contained in the AG’s report. It gives the public a rare opportunity of knowing what kind of mistakes committed and kills the rumour spin that normally makes rounds whenever a top official is apprehended or suspended on issues related to accountability.
But it also provides a learning platform for public officials who, upon seeing their colleges on TV screens sweating with explanations, will be more cautious on certain issues that might otherwise have been taken lightly. This is simply because Rwandans are naturally conscious of public ridicule because of the culture values rooted in ‘ubunyangamugayo’ and fear for ‘umugayo’ or humiliation. The end result will be a cleaner Audit report.
PAC has also brought a new dimension in as far as showing how far this committee is willing to stretch to dig out the truth on a matter of interest. The interrogation is not only limited to Chief Budget Manager but could even involve an office tea girl or office messenger if the case touches that individual. Therefore, the element of collective responsibility in public financial management is emphasized more.
And yet more than ensuring accountability, this new parliamentary organ brings a new meaning to the testimony of the independence of our Parliament. For long, our Parliament has been dubbed as docile, partly because of Rwanda’s political orientation seen through the constitutional pillar of consensus building on what constitutes common good or simply because the general public is unaware of the level of open discussions in parliamentary deliberations.
However, with the coming of PAC, the outside world (general public) is treated to a firsthand account of this independence. And this independence is not seen through its open way of conducting business but rather the value of establishing such an organ within Parliament and the contribution it makes in rendering this arm of Government relevant.
By and large, PAC’s workload has been cut out easy. It sails on smooth waters since the fight against corruption is in Rwanda is a collective responsibility riding on strong political will and institutional framework.
Therefore, unlike in some countries where such parliamentary committees meet stiff resistance and open hostility from the Executive, PAC’s workload will be simplified by the mere fact that accountability and transparency are already embedded in the governance norms of this Government.
So, instead of having situations where the work of such committees is politicized, setting Parliament and the Executive on a head collision, often time with the intention of shielding the corrupt, the situation in Rwanda is different. PAC will not have to make noise at a Minister, once or twice to explain what action he/she has done to implement the recommendations provided, like we have witnessed elsewhere.
However, going forward what remains as a challenge for PAC is whether the steam it has shown at the beginning will be maintained. With its very first seating, it has raised the bar high. Will it keep the momentum or will it break in the middle?
The future will tell but for now, beware PAC is fired up!
Contact email: On twitter [at]aasiimwe Blog: aasiimwe.wordpress.com