After years of inaction, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace has called a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. (File photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Controversy emerged when the Public Accounts Committee (P.A.C.) met last week for the first time in years.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) said on its website that the examination of special audits of the Ministries of Agriculture and Health were removed from the agenda of the PAC while members verify whether PAC guidelines, used in previous meetings, were ever approved by Parliament.

P.A.C. chair and Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace, told committee members that he plans to have more frequent meetings of the committee.

Last week’s meeting examined the government’s accounts for the year 2008.

The meeting was also scheduled to look into a 2010 special audit of the Ministry of Health that questioned the involvement of the International Airport Development Company in the Cuban Integrated Health Programme (CIHP) and the purchase of large amounts of fast food by the CIHP.

TheP.A.C. was also expected to examine a special audit of the Ministry of Agriculture last year, where a company owned by former permanent secretary, Allan Alexander — son of House Speaker Hendrick Alexander — is said to have sold items to the Ministry at exorbitant prices.

But, according to the NDP, the audits were removed from the agenda after senators Dr. Douglas Slater and Julian Francis, the government’s representatives at the meeting, questioned whether Parliament ever approved the guidelines for the operation of the P.A.C.

“On that basis, they sought the removal of the two special audits from the agenda. The Clerk of the House, who functions more or less as secretary to the committee, was asked to check back the records of Parliament to see whether and when such guidelines were approved,” the NDP said.

“As a consequence, the special audits were deleted from the agenda pending her investigation,” it added.

The NDP said that the meeting also dealt with several concerns raised by the Director of Audit.

These include the inadequate staffing of the Audit Department, the lack of computers, which severely hampers the work of auditors, “the obvious non-compliance by many Ministries … to the relevant Audit Act, and the need for the Audit Department to be relocated to appropriate offices”.

“It is noteworthy that because of several areas of non-compliance, the Director of Audit could not give an opinion on the Audit for 2008,” the NDP said.

“[W]hat we have is a qualified audit report,” the party quoted Eustace, who is also NDP leader as saying.

According to the NDP, the next meeting of theP.A.C. will “delve more specifically into the 2008 Government Accounts themselves.

“It does not go unnoticed that at [a] time of severe economic hardship in this country the ULP (Unity Labour Party) is seeking to raise a technicality to protect their administration from the scrutiny of the opposition-led Public Accounts Committee,” the NDP said.

“This same ULP lambasted the Opposition Leader for not holding meetings of the Committee and now that he activates the committee, the same ULP is questioning its right to function,” the NDP further said.

Eustace, by virtue of his position as Opposition Leader, is the chair of the PAC.

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