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“IMPROVING FINANCIAL OVERSIGHT: ROLE OF THE PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE CLERK” MALAWI’S EXPERIENCE By Joseph Joel Manzi Clerk of the Public Accounts Committee for Malawi Parliament 3 RD WESTMINSTER WORKSHOP FOR PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEES HELD IN LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM 24 TH – 27 TH JUNE, 2013
INTRODUCTION PACs play critical role of ensuring integrity, accountability, transparency and improving efficiency in the management of public funds. However, PACs cannot function on their own without the support of the Secretariat. Secretariat provides the technical and administrative support services to the Committee for it to perform its duties effectively and efficiently.
PAC SECRETARIAT IN MALAWI Standing Orders for the Malawi Parliament recognize a need for each Committee to have its Secretariat. Standing Order 177 states: “Each Committee shall have committee staff including a Committee Clerk and a Parliamentary Researcher and may engage the services of technical consultants”.
In Malawi, PAC secretariat comprises staff from Parliament and from the Audit General’s Office (National Audit Office). Staff from Parliament comprises the following, among others: PAC Clerk as the Lead Clerk; 3 other Clerks; a Researcher; Parliamentary Reporters and Editors of Hansard; and Other support staff, e.g. Ushers and Audio Visual Staff
From the National Audit Office The work of the Public Accounts Committee is largely based on the Auditor General’s Reports. As such, the Auditor General is the principal technical advisor of the Committee as it is examining the Reports. In attending the PAC meetings, the Auditor General is accompanied by other Senior Auditors from his or her office.
ROLE OF A PAC CLERK Central coordinating unit in as far as the provision of secretarial support services to the Committee is concerned. The Clerk is a link between the Committee and other members of the Secretariat. CLERK’S ROLE SUMMARIZED IN 4 MAIN FUNCTIONS 1.Provision of administrative and secretariat services 2.Provision of advice on Committee Practice and Procedure 3.Coordination of research and analytical support services 4.Managing the interaction between the Committee and stakeholders
1. Provision of administrative and secretariat services Preparation of agenda and programme for Committee meetings under the direction of the Chairperson. In Malawi, the Rules of the House require that notice of the meeting should be circulated at least two weeks before the date of the meeting. It is, therefore, the Clerk’s responsibility to ensure that this requirement is met. The Clerk ensures that the programme for the appearance of the Controlling Officers before the Committee is implemented as planned. Minute taking during committee meetings. Drafting Committee reports.
2. Provision of advice on Practice and Procedure Clerk is a non-political officer in the Committee. As such, he or she is expected to provide his or her advice to the Committee in a professional and non- partisan manner. It is also important that the Clerk should be familiar with Standing Orders and precedents.
3. Coordination of research and analytical support services The Clerk provides direction to the Committee Researcher to prepare background information where necessary on issues under the Committee’s inquiry. The Clerk coordinates the preparatory meetings for the Secretariat, i.e. to prepare for draft questions and necessary documentation for the Committee. Allocating specific tasks to members of the Secretariat either as individuals or as groups, e.g. following up with Controlling Officers on the written responses to the audit queries.
4. Managing the interaction between the Committee and stakeholders The Clerk facilitates the interface between the Committee and its stakeholders which include Controlling Officers summoned to appear before the Committee to answer audit queries, Civil Society Organizations, the media and the general public.
ATTRIBUTES OF AN EFFECTIVE PAC CLERK excellent knowledge of Standing Orders and common practices. good working relationship with the Chairperson and all other Committee Members. political tact non-partisan Proactive communicates at all levels embrace a reading culture.
CHALLENGES 1.Frequent changes of the Committee membership In Malawi, powers to appoint and remove a Member to and from the Committee, respectively, rest with the party Whips whenever they see it fit. No rule to guarantee the tenure of membership to a Committee. As such, there are frequent changes to the Committee membership which, as a result, pose serious challenge to the Secretariat in terms of orientation of the new Committee Members.
2. Financial limitations Treasury funding, in most cases, is not adequate to enable the Committee to meet and carry out its planned activities as desired. As a result, the Committee: a)has a backlog of the Auditor General’s Reports unattended to; and b)fails to implement capacity building programmes for its Members and Secretariat, e.g. training workshops and attachments to other Parliaments.
3. Understaffing Although Malawi Parliament, through its Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), is mandated to recruit its own staff, however, the PSC is required to seek authority from the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRMD) of the Executive Branch of Government to fill vacant posts. This poses a challenge in the sense that, in certain cases and due to any reasons, the DHRMD declines to grant the authority to fill the vacant posts, resulting into shortage of staff.
MEASURES TO ADDRESS THE IDENTIFIED CHALLENGES 1. Review of the Standing Orders The Malawi Parliament, through its Committee on Legal Affairs has just completed a process of reviewing the current Standing Orders in which a proposal has been made that the tenure of Committee membership should be pegged to the life of Parliament, a move which is aimed at creating a sense of permanence on the Committee membership as compared to the current situation.
Pledge for increased Treasury Funding and Donor Support There is commitment from the Ministry of Finance to increase allocation for Committee meetings including the PAC meetings. In addition, some Development and Cooperating Partners, such as Norway, British (DFID), Germany which support accountability programmmes in Malawi, have pledged financial support to the PAC and the National Audit Office.
CONCLUSION The role of the PAC Clerk in facilitating the PAC’s oversight function of holding the Executive to account for its use of the public funds is clearly inevitable and need not to be overemphasized. It is, therefore, important for decision makers at any level to seriously consider providing the necessary support to the PAC Clerks if the PACs they are servicing are to operate efficiently and effectively.
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