Miller won’t block AG reports

| 27/08/2009

(CNS): Fears that the public release of the auditor general’s reports will be delayed by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) may have been alleviated following proposals formalising the process of their presentation to the House by Ezzard Miller, the PAC chair. Miller has suggested that the AG’s reports be formerly tabled in the Legislative Assembly as soon as possible after the AG has given a report to the speaker before they are released for public consumption. Miller assured the people, however, that the reports would not have to wait on the PAC review before becoming public documents.

In a position paper presented to the LA on Wednesday afternoon (26 August), Miller stated that the current procedure for handling the AG’s reports was not defined and he proposed to formalise the process by amending standing orders to require the reports be laid on the table of the House at the first available sitting after the AG has handed his report to the speaker. Thereafter, he said the reports would become public documents and he proposed placing time limits on PAC to lay its review of the AG’s reports — within three months — and then for government to lay its minutes (or comment) within a further three months, ensuring that all of the AGs reports would be addressed within six months of completion.

Miller told the LA that because the last PAC did not complete a single review of any AG reports, the Standing Orders had been changed so that they could be made public without waiting on a PAC review. However, the independent MLA for North Side said the process had not been formalized and he could find no precedent which supported the current procedure of the AG merely handing his reports to the speaker and then them becoming public documents two days later.

“The long established parliamentary procedure to make any document, report or other matter that is owned by parliament public is through the act of laying it on the table of the House,” he said.

Ezzard suggested that a media circus had ensued in recent weeks over the question of the reports, with the AG seeking to recruit people, such as the Information Commissioner, to his corner, but he said as chair of PAC he had no intention of preventing the reports from becoming public but was merely seeking to reinstate proper procedures.

Questions over the public exposure of the AG’s reports were raised following various comments made by one of the committee members in the press. Former talk-show host, Ellio Solomon, the fourth elected member for George Town and a one time advocate of transparency and accountability, had suggested that the AG’s reports should not be released for public consumption until the committee had the opportunity to review them. The suggestions raised serious concerns in the AG’s office and the wider public domain that blocking the reports would be a backward step.

Miller told the LA that he had received a call from the country’s highest executive who had threatened him with his constitutional powers despite the fact that the issue was a parliamentary one and not one for that particular person’s office.  Miller was called up by the speaker when he suggested the “highest executive” had no business interfering with parliamentary matters.

Following his presentation in the House, Miller told CNS that he never had any intention to hold back the AG’s reports and thathe was the person driving to have all of the reports examined and reviewed by PAC following five years of inertia. “If these proposals are approved there will be no more argument about procedure and protocol’” he said.

Auditor General Dan Duguay said that, although he had not yet had chance to see Miller’s proposals, on first review they seemed to be a step forward rather than back. “My goal has always been to ensure that the reports from the Auditor General’s Office reach the public in as timely way as possible,” Duguay said. “Following consideration of the proposals and any possible loopholes that these procedures may reveal I hope we can continue to move forward with the public scrutiny of these reports.”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    While I do not agree with the approach of the Auditor General over the past few years it is somewhat understandable as the previous PAC was chaired by a lazy and incompetent person.

    As an auditor I can tell you that before a report is issued to the Board of Directors….in this case…the public; the report is first issued to management (politicians, administrators, etc) to give them an opportunity to respond.  There are times when other evidence or explanations are received that result in our original report being changed.

    What the public needs to understand that the AG reports not only reflect the actions of politicians but also civil servants, board members, and companies that do business with the government. Natural justice requires that they should at least be given an opportunity to respond to any issues or allegations raised to avoid any public embarassment.

    It appears in the past some of the affected parties were not given an opportunity to do so thus creating the impression that the AG was biased. The AG needs to also understands that while he is is there to report on the management of the countries resources….no one likes a media hog and he loves the limelight a little too much and as such runs the risk of losing his credibility.

  2. William Adam says:

    Release the Auditor General’s reports to the MLA’s, related parties in the report, simultaneously to the public and this applies to all other reports. 

    The LA is not an entity unto itself as some superior body or thing.  Maybe in the past this was so but no more. 

    MLA’s are simply persons in whom the people have put their trust to represent them for a period in legislative matters while they the people get on with making the economy work to pay their representatives and hopefully earn enough to also feed their own families after paying the taxes.

    We the people paid for all reports so they are our reports, not the Legislative Assembly’s, the LA earns no money, all money the LA spends is our money taken from us.  The MLA’s are elected by and paid by us to review, comment, consult with us and then take action on the reports. 

    When democracy is allowed to work it is really a very simple process. 

    Now, the working of politics, ahh that is where the complication comes in.

    When reports are released then during the debates we will already have them in our hand to see what is said for ourselves, not the politically biased view the opposing politicians on PAC or any other committee member will put their particular party "spin" on what is in the report, many times trying to confuse very simple issues.

    Government has a poor record of releasing reports; many reports have still not seen the light of day after they have been completed years ago.

    In this age of increasing openness and participation in governance there should be hardly anything in Government that is kept from us the people.   Again we paid for all of it!

    PAC, continue with your good work to bring the backlog of work current.

    William Adam