PAAC looks at Ministry of National sk© Security SAVER SALE this week

The Public Accounts and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) will be reviewing the performance of the Ministry of National sk© Security SAVER SALE when it meets at Gordon House on Wednesday morning. The meeting is expected to raise much public interest, with crime and violence being such a major issue in the media, and with so many concerns about the capacity of the security forces to control armed gangs. The Senate Regulations Committee is scheduled to meet on Friday, to review a draft report regarding the National Housing Trust’s (NHT) Housing Benefits/Special Selection at the Longville Housing Development, Phase III in Clarendon, and the Balaclava Housing Development in St Elizabeth.

CARIBBEAN PACS MEET IN KINGSTON THIS WEEK The annual meeting of the Caribbean Network of Public Accounts Committees (CarNPAC) will be held in Kingston this week. A news release from Gordon House on Friday said that Jamaica will be hosting the meeting on October 24 and 25.

The release did not say where exactly the meetings would be held, and whether the local media is invited. The House of Representatives is scheduled to meet on Tuesday at the usual 2:00 pm, therefore, the meeting is not expected to affect attendance at Gordon House. However, the Public Accounts Committee, which meets infrequently but always on Tuesday morning, is not scheduled to meet.

The meeting of regional PACs will focus on financial oversight of government ministries, departments and agencies, which is what PACs throughout the region do. Oversight is one of the major failings of the Jamaican Parliament, despite attempts by overseas interests, including the World Bank, to assist Gordon House to speed up improvements. But the most serious problem affecting Gordon House now is implementing a system of oversight for its own commissions, which constantly complain of lack of both financial and general oversight.

Less than three weeks ago Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck was reported as saying that he was not in favour of a non-executive review board overseeing the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). He argued that INDECOM, as one of the commissions of Parliament, should receive oversight from the legislature (Parliament). However, what the minister failed to explain is that there is actually no oversight for these commissions inside Parliament.

There never has been, except for a period during the administration of Prime Minister Bruce Golding (2007/11) when a committee was appointed with the deputy speaker as chairman. That committee chaired by current government back-bencher and then deputy speaker Marisa Dalrymple Phillibert, was designed to review the annual and special reports from commissions of Parliament, including INDECOM, the Political Ombudsman, the Office of the Public Defender, and so on. When the change of government took place in January, 2012, the committee was completely ignored and fell into obscurity.

But, last year the previous administration, responding to constant complaints from the commissions and the obvious disenchantment of supportive bodies, including the World Bank, tried to revive it. The revival of the committee was under former deputy speaker, Lloyd B Smith. But the chairman showed an obvious lack of interest in the committee, and it failed to do anything.

Nothing has been said about reviving that committee since the new government took office, and this area of oversight has drifted out of control. There is fiscal oversight in Parliament. There is the PAC, which reviews the audits done by the auditor general, and there is the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), which focuses on budget spending.

But nobody pays attention to these commissions, their performance and their problems, which are included in their annual reports. After their annual reports are tabled, they fade away on the table of Parliament. There is also the fact that the PAC does not meet very often.

Past chairmen have claimed that there are too few reports from the auditor general to require its full-time intervention. But it is hard to believe that, with all the various audits being done by the auditor general recently, there is a lack of material for the PAC to meet. Former political ombudsman, Bishop Herro Blair, resigned the position claiming that his office needed support to fulfil its mission, and nobody was listening or reviewing his reports.

It is interesting that during the last administration a number of its young members were insisting that Blair should have been replaced, as there was no need for a political ombudsman 24/7. A replacement for Blair was found and sworn in after his resignation, but the problems which Blair said were hampering that office still exist. SENATE PASSES NIS AMENDMENT BILL

The Senate on Friday passed the Bill amending the National Insurance Act to reduce the actuarial review cycle of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) from five to three years. There were a number of proposed changes from the Opposition members, including Senator KD Knight and Leader of Opposition Business Senator Mark Golding, as the Government pressed forward in its efforts to protect the significant social relief programme initiated 50 years ago. However, their proposals were largely ignored.

Responding to a demand from Opposition member Senator Lambert Brown that the benefits paid to contributors should be increased immediately, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, who piloted the Bill, responded that she had already informed the Senate that among the recommendations for more changes which have been approved by the Cabinet, was that the contributions be reviewed. She also noted that the actuarial review’s report and recommendations, which have led to the current decisions, was tabled in 2014, and the new Government has only had the task of dealing with it since taking office in March this year. The contributions were last raised in 2010 and then in 2013, which suggests that successive governments have needed time to do their own review of the situation, before making those kinds of recommendations.

Senator Johnson Smith also said that, with regard to a suggestion from Opposition Senator Floyd Morris that late payments to beneficiaries should carry an interest penalty, the Government has also reviewed that situation but she didn’t think adding interest to the outstanding principal would be a resolution.

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