Proper public financial management through ideals of accountability, transparency and probity were the rallying cry of the second republic ever since it came to power. Twenty years on, efforts continue to be made towards making these ideals a reality. Accountability initiatives have come in various forms and sizes, sometimes responding to specific concerns at a certain time. Admittedly, there were false starts and missteps, but also progress has been made. This is witnessed in the establishment of such mechanisms and institutions as the Gambia Public Procurement Authority. These institutions have the backing of a host of policy and legal frameworks for efficient delivery of services.
However, one could say without any fear of contradiction that significant improvements in public accountability started being registered only when the joint session of the public accounts and public enterprises committee of the National Assembly came into the equation. PAC/PEC comprises selected National Assembly Members, experts in public accounting, public procurement and public enterprises and the Office of the President. With this session, The Gambia can be said to be on course to making it a reality, the ideals that this regime has committed itself to with the PAC/PEC performing the statutory exercise of carrying out lawful checks and scrutiny over public enterprises and agencies and the public service delivery systems.
Through scrutiny of their activity reports, public institutions inform lawmakers about their conduct, by providing various sorts of data about the performance of tasks, about outcomes, or about procedures. Through scrutiny of their audited accounts, public institutions give an account of every dalasi spent from the public funds.
Often, in the event of shortcomings, justifications are provided. This can prompt the PAC/PEC to interrogate the offices being scrutinised by questioning the adequacy of the information or the legitimacy of the conduct or pass judgment on the conduct of these public institutions. The PAC/PEC may also approve of an annual account, denounce a policy, or publicly condemn the behaviour of a manager or an agency. As practice has it, while some public institutions do come out with what the press would refer to as a clean bill of health, others face some sort of informal sanctions such as the very fact of having to be shamed in front of television cameras and the managers of institutions could have their public image or career damaged by the bad press blitz that result from the process.
Public accountability is the hallmark of modern democratic governance. Democracy remains a paper procedure if those in power cannot be held accountable in public for their acts and omissions, for their decisions, their policies, and their expenditures. Public accountability, as an institution, therefore, is the complement of public management. As the PAC/PEC begins another session, we hope that the public institutions would cooperate. As the Speaker of the Assembly often says, this is not a witch-hunt. To quote Speaker Bojang, “oversight over public services is purposely meant for each and every one of us entrusted with responsibilities to keep our own side of the ‘social contract” with the Gambian tax-payers.”]]>