Ghanaians have not been taking it easy with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament . It is widely believed that although the PAC has the right to exact sanctions on culprits in the cause of its oversight duties it has just been failing to do so. The aim of this article is to prove that it is not the duty of the PAC nor the Legislature as a whole to punish offenders, that Parliament has no judicial powers as far as prosecuting or punishing culprits is concerned. What then are the roles assigned by the laws of this country to the Parliament of Ghana with regard to the public purse ?
1.0 Constitutional Mandate
The legislature`s oversight of the public purse is in line with the principle of checks and balances in democratic governance.
Thus, the 1992 constitution accords the Parliament of Ghana ex ante and ex poste powers to oversee the formulation and execution of the national budget, which is the most important annual development policy of the country. The ex-ante role, which involves parliament approving the national budget is not often a bone of contention; more often than not, parliaments the world over approve their countries` budgets, subject to amendments that they may make commensurate with the amendment powers conferred on them by their countries` constitutions.
The ex post role of the Legislature, which involves examining the reports of the supreme audit institution is the one that often comes under public scrutiny. To the public, such nation wreckers, who misappropriate or divert funds budgeted and released to provide schools, healthcare centres, places of convenience and relief for the poor deserve punishment severer than the mere naming and shaming that they view on television. Obviously, because it is the PAC that organizes the public hearings, the public assumes that it should be cited for failing to crack the whip whenever it appears necessary.
This notion is wrong!
2.0 The PAC`s Role
The role of the PAC, is to examine matters referred to them by the Presiding Officer. Thus, when the AG`s reports on the public accounts of Ghana are laid in plenary [ in line with article 187(2) and (5)], the Speaker refers them to the PAC for further examination, in line with clause (6) of the same article. In fact, Standing Order 165(2) of the Parliament of Ghana Stipulates as follows:
The Public Accounts Committee shall be assigned the examination of the audited accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by parliament to meet the public expenditure of the Government and of such other accounts as laid before parliament.
The public hearings of the PAC, which the public watches live on television is the foremost one of the tools that, as a committee of parliament, the PAC uses to undertake its fact-finding role.
Once the PAC, like all other committees of the House is done with its investigative role, it is required by Standing Order161 to submit its recommendations to Parliament. It is not required to either prosecute or adjudicate. No! It is important at this stage to report that the only judicial powers conferred on the PAC, and all other parliamentary committees are: to enforce the attendance of witnesses and examine them on oath, affirmation or otherwise; compel the production of documents; and, issue a commission or request to examine witnesses abroad. It is important for Ghanaians to therefore recognize that the PAC chairman is neither a public prosecutor not adjudicator. No! What happens beyond the naming and the shaming? Who punishes the nation wreckers? Sanctions could be applied at administrative or judicial levels.
3.0 Administrative Sanctions: The Role of ARICs
As far as administrative sanctions are concerned, the Audit Report Implementation Committee (ARIC) of various ministries, departments or agencies (MDAs) are to be held responsible. The ARICs are set up, in accordance with clause 30 of the Audit Service Act, by all governance institutions, ministries, departments and agencies of central government as well as district assemblies.
The duty of the ARICs is to ensure that the heads of their respective institution pursue the implementation of the Auditor General`s reports adopted by Parliament in plenary as well as the recommendations of internal audit units of the respective MDAs (clause 30 (2)(a). In pursuance of that, the ARIC is enjoined to prepare annual reports showing the status of implementation of recommendations made in the Auditor general`s reports adopted by Parliament [subsection (2)]
This statement shall also show remedial action that has been taken or is proposed to be taken to avoid or minimize the recurrence of undesirable activities identified by the AG [section (3) of the same clause]. It will also indicate the time frame for the completion of the said action. This statement is to be endorsed by the relevant minister of state or head of the institution in question, and as a check on the ARIC, forwarded to Parliament, the Office of the President and the Auditor – General`s outfit [ section (4) of the same clause]. They are enjoined to do this within six months after Parliament has adopted the AG`s report (same section). In view of the concerns raised about the lack of action on the part of the various ARICs, the former President, His Excellency Mr. John Mahama, was quoted by a Metro Tv news report on November 15 2013, to have directed that one of the conditions for the continuing stay in office of his ministers was the issuing of the said annual report of the respective ARICs every year. As I write, however, only the Ministry of Finance has submitted one ARIC report to Parliament. The said report was laid in plenary on June 30 2015. It has since been referred to the Finance Committee of parliament for consideration and report.
4.0 Prosecution and Adjudication: The Roles of the AG and the Judiciary
Beyond the internal remedies and sanctions, the responsibility for exacting judicial conviction and punishment lies in the bosom of the judiciary. In this regard, article 66 (1) of the Financial Administration Act stipulates that there is established a financial Administration Tribunal. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal, according to article 67 of the same act, is, among others, to enforce the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee on the Auditor – General`s reports as approved by parliament. Article 68 stipulates that the orders of the tribunal shall be enforced in the same manner as an order of the High Court.
But before the Court can proceed to adjudicate, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice would be expected to prosecute suspects. Article 88(3) confers on the AG, responsibility for the initiation and conduct of all prosecutions of criminal offences. Thus, it is expected that cases of criminal nature would be taken up by the AG. In this regard, it is refreshing to note that the new police administration has decided to set up a desk at the Police Headquarters to investigate cases related to the Auditor General`s Reports. The Inspector general of Police, Mr. John Kudalor made this known when he appeared at a public hearing of the PAC in Parliament House recently (Daily Graphic, April 20 2016). It is hoped that this collaboration between the AG and the Police would begin to shift emphasis from the mere naming and shaming at the public hearings to taking more punitive measures against nation wreckers.
The Missing Link
Given such clearly laid out measures, why does it appear that nation wreckers are not being punished? As the former honourable First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Ebo Barton- Odro asked during a recent debate of one of the PAC`s reports in plenary, what is happening?
The response of the outgoing chairman of the PAC, the honourable Mr Kwaku Agyemang – Manu to the question is instructive. He said that there are a host of issues constraining action on the PAC`s reports. The first challenge appears to be a procedural one, and the PAC Chairman gave a hint to this challenge when he requested the Speaker to be “directing the Table office (in Parliament) to communicate officially the reports (of the PAC) to the various auditees such that they would take some of these matters more seriously than they do at the moment”.
One would have thought that it is a matter of course, as stipulated by the Audit Service Act. It is quite unfortunate that such an important administrative measure has not been in place over the years. One might also deduce from this disclosure that there is equally a missing link between Parliament and the state prosecutor, the Attorney General.
But the more important disclosure by the PAC chairman that the committee has been “trying to be a little more innovative to come up with things that would make the recommendations of the committee get implemented” raises some hope that the knotty knots in the process would be un untired, and that appropriate remedial and punitive actions will be taken to recover lost public funds and punish culprits.