Gibraltar Parliament ‘should have public accounts committee’, Lord Foulkes says
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has underlined the need for the Gibraltar Parliament to have a public accounts committee for the scrutiny of government expenditure.
Speaking to GBC, Labour peer Lord Foulkes, the association’s vice chairman, raised the issue following a regional parliamentary conference held in Gibraltar this week.
Lord Foulkes told the broadcaster: “On a bilateral basis one of the things that we are encouraging the Parliament of Gibraltar to consider, and we will be doing this in a gentle and friendly way over the next few months, is the need for a public accounts committee.”
“Every other Parliament represented here today has got a public accounts committee which scrutinises the expenditure of the government in a detailed way that you can’t do just in a normal parliamentary sitting,” he said.
“I think it is right and I think they will be looking at the importance of setting up a public accounts committee,” Lord Foulkes said adding that there are two ways of constituting such a committee.
But, he said, the principle is that there should be a group of people preferably chaired by an Opposition MP that would examine on a detailed basis in committee.
“In Britain we have the support of the National Audit office to do reports to the public accounts committee to make sure that expenditure is carried out properly.”
Addressing the issue during a speech he gave at a dinner for CPA delegates, however, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo questioned the need for a commission on finances.
Mr Picardo highlighted how soon after he entered office he established a Commission on Democratic and Parliamentary Reform.
That Commission, he said, had made a number of recommendations many of which had already been adopted, while others are to be considered in a Select Committee.
“Some conclusions and recommendations may surprise you,” Mr Picardo told delegates.
“But please do consider the work we do in our 17 member parliament must be bespoke to the reality of this jurisdiction.”
He flagged the Commission’s conclusion that “there is no need to establish a General Purpose Standing Committee nor a Public Accounts Committee, given that Opposition Members have every opportunity to examine Government expenditure in detail as well as debating the report from the Principal Auditor on the Government accounts for every financial year.”
“That may be anathema to a Westminster parliamentarian operating in a parliament in permanent session with 500 members who are not in the Executive,” Mr Picardo said.
But the Opposition, which has championed the need for greater scrutiny of Gibraltar’s public finances, welcomed the comments by Lord Foulkes.
GSD Deputy Leader Roy Clinton first broached the subject in October of last year when he brought a motion to Parliament in order to debate the issue and stated that he was “taken aback” to discover that Gibraltar was the only representative of a previous CPA conference not to have such a committee.
Yesterday he told the Chronicle: “The comments by Lord Foulkes do not come as a surprise to me as I feel quite strongly about the issue and I have raised the question of having a public accounts committee in Parliament on October 7, 2016.”
“My motion was defeated by the GSLP/Liberal Government.”
“The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association have set up a parallel organisation consisting of PAC representatives,” he added.
“Having a PAC is best practice regardless of size and Gibraltar risks falling behind due to the Chief Minister’s inability to see the value that a PAC will add to transparency and accountability.”