The Public Accounts Committee - PAC: A barking dog without teeth?
Some of the MPs on the PAC.
Oliver Wonekha - MP Bududa (L) and Piro Santos - MP East Moyo (R)

The Public Accounts Committee - PAC: A barking dog without teeth?

PAC's work does not only stop at exposing government officials.

By Olive Eyotaru Yemima
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First published: November 22, 2008

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee is to most Ugandans one of the most outstanding committees in the 8th Parliament. Known for grilling public officials to account for funds, PAC, as it is commonly known, is mandated by Parliament to scrutinize government accounts.

But what really does the PAC do? Apart from a minister being grilled for missing funds or detaining a Permanent Secretary for 30 minutes for failure to produce documents showing accountability of funds, what more do Ugandans have to thank PAC for. With much talking and little biting, PAC still needs to prove that it is important in the fight against corruption.

From the accountant, Permanent Secretary to the Minister, PAC has not left any stone unturned in investigating misappropriation of public money. Its clearly defined role is to investigate accounts in the government and ensure that public officials do not swindle public monies.

What is PAC?

The Public Accounts Committee is a committee that was set up by Parliament to scrutinize government accounts. The committee is made of 20 members that are designated by their respective party whips so that the committee has members from all parties on the basis of proportional party membership in the House. Designation on the committee also takes into consideration the interests of Independent Members.

The committee is currently chaired by Budadiri West MP, Nathan Nandala Mafabi (FDC) and deputized by Kawempe South MP, Richard Ssebuliba Mutumba (DP). Other members include Reagan Okumu (Aswa, FDC), Margaret Kiboijana (Ibanda, NRM), Margaret Muhanga (Kabarole, NRM), Florence Hashaka Kabahweza (Kamwenge, NRM), Albert Oduman (Bukedea, FDC), Peter Claver Mutuluuza (Mawokota North, NRM), Simon Ross Euku (Kalaki, UPC), Frank Tumwebaze (Kibale, NRM), Saleh Kamba (Kibuku, NRM), Issac Ssejjoba (Bukoto Mid-West, Independent), Nsubuga William (Buvuma, NRM), Winfred Masiko (Rukungiri, NRM), Kyokuhairwa Kyaka Viccy (Isingiro, NRM), Aronda Nyakairima, UPDF Representative, Kazibwe Musisi Tom (Ntenjeru South, NRM), Achia Terence Naco, Bokora, NRM, Katongole Badhul (Kyaka, NRM) and Bartille Johnson Toskin (Kongasis, NRM).

The Public Accounts Committee is provided for under Rule No.148 of the Rules of Procedure and is mandated to examine the audited accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure of government.

PAC is one of the accountability committees that, without prejudice to sub-rule (6) of Rule No.134 is to be chaired and deputized by Members of Parliament designated by the Official Opposition Party or Organization.

In its line of work, PAC's role is to scrutinize central government accounts and if it finds faults in them, it makes recommendations in a report, which is later forwarded to Parliament for debate.

However, some members of the public are concerned that PAC's work has not been fully manifested in terms of publicizing their findings, or holding those implicate in misappropriating funds to account. But one Ssebuliba says believes PAC has done its best in ensuring proper accountability in government. He says that the committee has not only prosecuted corrupt officials but also followed up on the recommendations to be implemented on these officials.

What is the role of PAC?

Ssebuliba says that PAC's work does not only stop at exposing government officials. "Most of the committee's work depends on the recommendations of the Auditor General's reports. At the end of the financial year, the Auditor General's office audits all government accounts to ensure that funds that were appropriated to respective government departments where well spent. Short of that, the Auditor General raises queries on accounts that are lacking in accountability and compiled in a report, which is later sent to all accountability committees to follow up," Ssebuliba says.

The committee scrutinizes the accounts of different government departments, and if any loophole is found, they summon the accounting officers of these departments to account. Accounting officers are required to present valid documents like statutory instruments that authorize transactions, receipts, and account books, among others.

When PAC compiles its recommendations, they are forwarded to the different sectoral heads for implementation. When this is done, the Ministry of Finance sends back a report known as a Treasury Memorandum to acknowledge the implementation of the committee's recommendations.

The committee also relies on information it gets from public complaints sent through a sub committee instituted by PAC. It specifically deals directly with the public through scrutinizing their complaints and investigating them. It is chaired by Aswa MP, Reagan Okumu. Other members include Oduman, Oliver Wonekha and Mutuluuza Peter.

Oduman says that as a committee, its work has been recognized by several bodies and organizations. The IGG's office has commended the committee on several occasions for exposing corrupt officials. Some of the cases have also been taken up by the IGG for further investigation thus making her work easier.

"The committee has been invited to different symposiums and conferences, both locally and internationally, in relation to corruption and accountability," Oduman says. This, Oduman says, has made the committee more credible and shows that it is doing a good job in fighting corruption.

But being the sensitive committee that it is, PAC has also left a bitter taste in the mouths of several government officials. Some people have actually accused the committee of witch hunting government officials, since PAC is headed by an opposition MP.

In April this year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sam Kuteesa was implicated in a case of irregularly securing a 1.2 billion shillings deal for Hunton and William, a PR firm in the United Kingdom from March 2005 to April 2006 to promote the image of Uganda following a hostile and negative campaign by political players and sympathizers of the Lord's Resistance Army. Kuteesa, in retaliation to the allegations, accused the committee chairperson, Nandala Mafabi, of witch hunting him because of being a member of the NRM ruling party.

Ssebuliba says as PAC, they do not witch hunt any political leader, but only want to expose corruption. He instead accuses the Executive of interfering in some of these cases before the committee, especially when the recommendations target members of the Executive. In such instances, the Speaker sometimes does not encourage debate but opts for time to scrutinize the recommendations.

"Some of those follow ups never materialize because they are sabotaged by some members of the Executive and yet PAC does not have the capacity to follow up," Oduman notes.

Kalaki MP, Simon Ross Euku, who is a member of the committee, says this situation is made worse by the fact that there is no law that protects whistle blowers against intimidation from government officials. Euku is happy that the Anti-Corruption Bill, which has been tabled in Parliament for its First Reading, will help in a big way to protect whistle blowers who volunteer information to the committee and the IGG's office in a bid to combat corruption amongst public officials.

Oduman says that the committee does not favor any government official, regardless of their position because they have to account for tax payers' money, which the committee is mandated to investigate.

He says despite all these shortcomings, PAC has been able to put into effect some of its recommendations, like ensuring the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Dr. James Nsaba Buturo refunds abut 20 million shillings that he had diverted from government owned Mega FM in 2005. But apart from this, there isn't much for the committee to show as a practical undertaking they have accomplished against corruption.

Sebuliba says PAC can only do better if the government sets up a secretariat for PAC so that the committee can independently do its work instead of only relying on the Auditor General's reports. "There is also need for capacity building of resource persons to facilitate the committee's work," he says.

By Olive Eyotaru Yemima
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First published: November 22, 2008
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Olive Eyotaru Yemima is a graduate of Mass Communication. She first worked with Ultimate Media in 2005 as an intern and returned in 2007 as a features writer.

A Ugandan talented creative writer, Eyotaru now writes for both the local and international media and continues to shine in the media every day that passes.