The Chamber of Deputies, last month, finally established the long-awaited Public Accounts Committee, whose principal mandate is to follow up on the Auditor General’s annual reports to ensure that they have served their ultimate objective.
By taking on the tasks previously held by the overstretched Standing Committee on Budget and National Patrimony, the new committee, PAC, should provide that missing link between the usually thorough AG reports, and ensuring that offenders are brought to account. The committee should make sure that identified weaknesses in the management of public resources are always addressed by the relevant parties.
Although the government has demonstrated an unequivocal will to fight graft to its roots, with some officials arraigned in court or slapped with administrative penalties, there’s a feeling that its zero-tolerance policy on corruption can register better results if our MPs were actively following up on the actions recommended by the Auditor General.
Parliament, as the principal recipient of the AG reports – on behalf of the citizens – needs to be making the most of the reports, by closely monitoring the application of whatever punitive measures deemed appropriate. Yet, for a long time, our MPs rarely moved out of their way to investigate cases of misappropriation of taxpayers’ money and the recurrent failure by public agencies to account for their expenditures.
Some MPs have blamed their perceived inaction, at least as far as observing their obligation to oversee public spending is concerned, on the fact that members of the Standing Committee on Budget and National Patrimony were always overwhelmed by the responsibilities of analyzing state budget allocations and frameworks. They may be right. But their oversight role would almost amount to nothing if they did not have time to step out of their offices, and ascertain whether the different budgetary allocations were spent on the very items they were approved for.
But that belongs to the past. We now have PAC in place. The profile of the MPs on the new committee is equally encouraging. Most of them were previously on the standing committees for either Budget or Economy.
The committee chairperson is veteran legislator, Juvenal Nkusi (PSD), the country’s first Speaker of what used to be the Transitional Legislative Assembly following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, until recently the chairperson of the committee on Economy and Trade.
A holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, the 56-year old politician should use the experience he has accumulated as a lawmaker for the past 17 years to help draw a line between an era of a largely lukewarm approach to misappropriation cases, and a more proactive one – in the August House.
And they are not short of the basic tools that should successfully guide them as they go about their work. Our anti-corruption system is thorough, at least with regard to public expenditure. For instance, nearly every public expense – apart from salaries – should be conducted through standard tendering procedures. All this is clearly stipulated in the public procurement law, which should be much easier for the MPs to interpret since they’re the ones who put it in place.
In addition, every public institution is required to develop and submit to Rwanda Public Procurement Authority (RPPA), as well as publish their procurement plans for the new fiscal year, before going on to execute their respective budgets.
As such, any public procuring entity is prohibited from spending on anything that was never planned for in their procurement plan. Except, of course, for expenses that resulted from natural events that could not have been foreseen (Force Majeure), such as natural disasters.
Therefore, any expenditure that is made outside the already-published procurement plan, and as long as it does not fall under the category of Force Majeure, should constitute a violation of the normal tendering process. Many public institutions tend to try to justify unplanned for expenditures as something that was extremely urgent. For some, that is not always the case.
Then, there’re the annual AG reports, which should provide the basis for PAC’s active involvement. The ones I have read are fairly comprehensive; they provide a rich insight into the public expenditure system. They’re simple to follow up and act on.
It’s also encouraging that parliament has created a pool of experts in various fields, whose job is to support MPs dealing with highly technical issues. PAC has a lot to benefit from them.
And certainly there’s a level of political will to prosecute officials accused of corruption. This could be a motivating factor in itself, for the committee, provided that it keeps translating into real action.
In PAC, our parliament has every opportunity to prove its critics wrong. But it also comes with a great deal of challenge to our Honourable Members of Parliament.