Falklands : FIRS Throws the Spotlight on Stuart Wallace
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 21.05.2010 (Article Archived on 04.06.2010)
Stacey Bragger (FIRS) announces that on today’s programme I will be talking to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Stuart Wallace (SW). We discussed the future direction of the Committee and a recent familiarisation visit to the UK. To begin with Stuart Wallace gave a summary of the Committee’s history to date.
FIRS THROWS THE SPOTLIGHT ON STUART WALLACE
A Report for FIRS by Stacey Bragger (SB) 17/05/10
SB: On today’s programme I will be talking to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Stuart Wallace (SW). We discussed the future direction of the Committee and a recent familiarisation visit to the UK. To begin with Stuart Wallace gave a summary of the Committee’s history to date.
SW: The Public Accounts Committee was provided for in the new Constitution and it’s a committee of two Members of Legislative Assembly and three other citizens – currently Emma Edwards, Sharon Halford, Mike Forrest, David Lang and myself, the current Chairman. And it is the remit of the Constitution for us to scrutinise public accounts, bodies who receive money from Government and we can look at the way companies which have franchises from Government are regulated. We can look at any aspect of the public accounts for value for money – is normally part of the Public Accounts Committee’s remit. We formed the first Committee on the 1st of February and we were required to have our first meeting three months from that date so we did in April and we are going to have our next meeting on the 31st of this month. The agendas are essentially are routine at this stage catching up on public accounts and a number of internal audit reports, which all come to us so the agenda is not terribly ambitious at this stage. We are getting our feet under the table and working to develop the work of the Committee as we go along.
SB: The Dairy was the first substantial issue you discussed. Was it disappointing at all having several members declaring an interest in the dairy?
SW: The dairy is pretty high in the priority list and is the first such referral from the Legislative Assembly. We think it’s going to be quite a large piece of work and our first task was to establish whether any declarations of interest should be made in respect of it. And there were a number and these have been taken into consideration now and at the end of next week I will be advising what the decision is regarding those interests that were declared and how we should proceed and we will take it from there. We also looked at the last meeting in public and how we might proceed given the resources we have. The resources of the Committee are very small and possibly appropriate to the size of our community and the economy. I am not complaining about that but as with most things you get from it what you put in and resources are an important factor – not the only factor – but quite important in terms of the work the Committee is able to do.
SB: One Councillor voiced his concerns about the Public Accounts Committee in throwing good money after bad and his concerns about it eating up more and more money. Do you have any reaction to those comments?
SW: I was surprised by them because the Committee was formed by the Legislative Assembly and we report to them. It’s a matter for them regarding the resources they are prepared to make available. We will put up our arguments for public funds to support the work and the duties that are required of us. And it’s a matter for the Standing Finance Committee of the Legislative Assembly to decide on what level of resourcing they will support. So it was a bit of a surprise within a couple of weeks of being formed to be the subject of that sort of comment.
SB: Several members of the Committee travelled to the UK recently to look at other similar bodies. Was that a useful exercise do you feel?
SW: Yes I believe it was very much a useful exercise. It was a very busy week but we went for a time in London and a time in Guernsey, Manchester, the Isle of Man and then I went down to Ferron. First of all I was very grateful for the time and resources that everywhere we went that people put into making our visit so useful and very busy people made their time available to talk to us and it was quite a privileged insight into how Guernsey or the Isle of Man and the boroughs in Manchester and Ferron got their business. And we were in the National Audit Office in London – the National Audit Commission – and it gave – I think all of us – valuable insight into how public accounts committees and other scrutiny committees go about their business. In Guernsey, which has quite a large public accounts committee, well resourced – although it has not been for many years – I think it was only formed eight or nine years ago – and the same in the Isle of Man where it’s part of an important process of scrutiny – one which until recently – until the formation of the Public Accounts Committee here, we haven’t had in the Falklands.
SB: Were there any particular aspects of the committees that you looked at that might help shape the future direction of the Committee here?
SW: One of the things which struck me about it was the enormous care taken regarding interests, possible conflicts of interests or even accusations of bias or whatever - extremely sensitive to that in all of these places that I went. Some of the committees actually meet in private all the time. We meet in public generally but some of these committees meet in private all the time and have different powers than we do. I think, too, one of the things that struck me was that formal powers of these committees all have a relationship with the performance of the committees. The performance of the committees relies also to a very large degree on the abilities and approach of the members involved. The formal powers are a backstop, if you like but the real effectiveness of the committee comes down to the abilities of the people on it, the resources that are available to them to work and also the interest in the media in putting resources into assisting the scrutiny of public accounts and affairs. In all of these places the media there was really quite vigorous in scrutinising what happens with public money on their own and they play a very important part in such work so there are more factors than just formal powers. I would just like to add, regarding our visit how conscious I became of how we were benefitting from relationships built up over many years with Guernsey and the Isle of Man, of the work of Claudette here – a great relationship with Parliamentarians there who made their valuable time available to us. We had a lot of assistance from the Councillors’ office here in setting it up. We had assistance from the Chief Executive here in setting up an extremely valuable visit to Manchester, where we had a whole day and met many people who were very helpful to us and indeed we also benefited from the relationships built up in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association over many years by Falkland Parliamentarians. I noted that regularly people were talking about Members of our previous Councils over many years. They certainly had relationships and so I think it opens doors for us.
SB: Do you feel that the Committee here will be value for money and finding out lessons for the future?
SW: Yes I do. I think that this first Committee is establishing it and getting processes in place and then will develop its business. I think that all around the world and particularly in the Commonwealth and in the UK, public accounts committees are an integral and essential part of working to make sure that the standards of governance are high. If you don’t have committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, then clearly the level of scrutiny is not so high. All around the developed world governments have found that committees constituted – as is ours more or less – there are many differences or variations – does make a valuable contribution to the standards of governance in the countries concerned.