(CNS): The government will be voting Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush off the Public Accounts Committee in the Legislative Assembly next week, as the independent member for North Side has agreed to take over the chairmanship from Roy McTaggart, who will remain as a member. Ezzard Miller told CNS that he had agreed to take over the committee because of recent events and the issue of conflict that has emerged.
“I believe we need to improve the functioning of the PAC as certain members have been doing things that contravene the committee’s standing orders,” he said.
Bush had caused concern for the current chair, Roy McTaggart, who asked him to resign in the wake of derogatory public comments he made about the auditor general. The opposition leader refused, however, and went on to attack the government auditor and made further public statements relating to reports which had not been reviewed by the committee. A number of reports that directly involve and criticize Bush are also still on the agenda for PAC, which the premier’s office said were impossible for him to consider with objectivity.
McTaggart has resigned from the chairman’s post because the auditor general will soon begin producing reports that deal more directly with the current administration and, given his supporting role as ministry counsellor in the finance ministry, he too would be conflicted.
The North Side MLA refused the post of PAC chair following the 2013 election because Bush had been appointed and he believed at the time that this would cause significant conflict. However, the planned removal of Bush has paved the way for Miller to return to the PAC hot seat.
Miller said one his main priorities would be to address government’s continued failure to formally respond to the PAC reports, which are tabled in the Legislative Assembly following its review of the reports by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) and the public hearings of the committee.
“The government has not responded, as it is required to do in law, to a single report since at least 2009. But it is an important part of completing the process and paves the way for a debate on the issues raised and for government to tell the parliament and the public what it intends to do or not do regarding the recommendations,” he said.
Well aware that the PAC needs to consider some extremely contentious reports from the OAG, including the controversial Nation Building Fund report, an audit of government assistance programmes and a review of land acquisition and management, Miller said he would be calling a meeting in the immediate wake of his appointment, if it is supported by members, to set a timetable.
Miller will also be seeking support to remove the remaining secrecy surrounding the committee.
“I will be asking government to suspend the standing orders that provide for closed-door meetings for the remaining life of this committee so that every meeting of PAC will be public,” he said. “I believe that closed-door meetings have facilitated some dysfunction on the committee, which more transparency can prevent.”
CNS contacted Bush for a response to the motion, which is expected to be an early item on government’s agenda when the parliament sits again next week, and we are waiting a response.