Public funds are used for the common good of society rather than the benefit of a private individual or for a private purpose. Even though public funds may not be used for personal benefit, there are personal benefits that may result from the expenditure of public funds. One personal benefit of the expenditure of public funds is the salary of a public employee. The public employee personally benefits from the payment, but the payment is necessary to acquire the services of the individual that is providing a service for the benefit of the public. Public funding comes from federal, state or local government channels.
In-line with the provisions of the Constitution, Public Account Committees have critical role to playin overseeing the use of public funds. This implies that Public Account Committees needs to conduct oversight over the Executives and hold them accountable for the use of public funds. The “million dollar question” is whether Public Account Committees within the respective Legislatures are effective and efficient in performing their mandate as enshrined in the Constitution? Considering empirical evidence of financial misconduct, fraudulent activities, and corruption cases; more still need to be done by the Public Account Committeesto continuously improve its work. The unfortunate part is that such mal-practices compromise service delivery as shown by various service delivery protests occurring in AkwaIbom State.
It should also be realized that the effectiveness and efficiency of the Public Account Committees work is mainlymeasured on how the Committee conduct its oversight functions, and how they hold the Executives accountable for the use of public funds. These two words (oversight and accountability) are therefore critical for the work of the Public Account Committees, as they are dependent and their meaning should be clearly understood.
For instance, efficient accountability is dependent on effective oversight. In the same manner, accountability can be strengthened through proactive oversight. This means that if Public Account Committeesplan their oversight effectively, it will strengthen accountability, which could also promote efficient use of public resources.
In this context, the most important element of oversight is to promote accountability in the use of limited publicresources for effective service delivery to the public, and to restore public confidence over government. With that understanding, it is therefore important to firstly explain the concept of oversight and accountability.
CONCEPT OF OVERSIGHT AND ACCOUNTABILITY OF PRIVATE AND PUBLIC FUND
(i) Concept of Oversight in Private and Public Fund
Oversight refers to the crucial role of the Legislatures in monitoring and reviewing the actions ofthe Executive organs of government. It refers to action or mechanism taken to oversee ‘financial and non-financial’ performance of government departments and public and private entities.
It further entails overseeing the effective management of government departments by Members of Cabinet in pursuit of improved service delivery to all citizens. The National Parliament (2009) outlined the functions of oversight as follows:
- To protect the rights and liberties of citizens.
- To hold government departments and public and private entities accountable for use of ‘taxpayers’ money.
- To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations.
- To monitor the achievement of government departments and public and private entities in relation to their Annual Performance Plan (APP) and Strategic Plan.
- To reinforce transparency and good governance.
The tools for effective oversight include, amongst others:
- Quarterly and Annual reports (including the Auditor General report)
- Investigation reports
- Strategic Plan, Annual Performance Plan and budget
- Site visits (practical means to oversee performance)
(ii) Concept of Accountabilityin Private and Public Fund
Accountability means ‘to give an account’ of actions or policies, or ‘to account for’ spending ofpublic or private funds. It refers to the duty of the Accounting Officer to account as ‘Accounting Officer’ tothe Minister, MEC, Auditor-General, and Legislature Committees through explaining orjustifying their decisions or actions taken when they use public funds. Accountability is therefore meant to encourage open and transparent governance. It serves as the function of enhancing public confidence in government (Corder et al., 1999). The National Parliament (2009) outlined the functions of accountability as follows:
- To effect and strengthen democratic control.
- To enhance the integrity of public governance.
- To improve performance on service delivery.
- To enable the public to judge the performance of government.
The tools that should be used for effective accountability include, amongst others:
- Budget vote (most direct tool to enforce accountability).
- Public hearings (the power to summon the Executive bodies to explain their actions or decisions).
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PUBLIC & PRIVATE FUNDS
Public funds, as their name suggests, are open to the public to invest in. They are managed by professional fund managers, who actively invest in various securities to achieve the mutual funds’ stated objectives, which could be capital growth or income. In the AkwaIbom States, investment companies which manage public funds are registered with and regulated by the State Securities and Exchange Commission. A public fund can be an index fund, a stock fund, a bond fund or a money market fund.
Public Fund Benefits
Investors do not need specialized knowledge to invest in public funds. Public funds spread the risk of investment because they combine funds from many different investors and generally diversify with a wide variety of investments. They vary in their investment mix and objectives, and can accommodate everyone from the conservative investor seeking steady income to the risk-taking investor seeking growth.
Private funds are an exclusive investment with a limited number of investors. The minimal investment for a share of a private fund is much higher than that of a public fund. Depending upon the number of investors in a private fund, there is little or no government regulation. Private funds, including hedge funds, tend to be more leveraged than public funds. It is common for private funds to use financial derivatives, repurchase agreements and additional borrowing methods. Private funds tend to be based out of the States and subject to the host nation’s rules governing private funds.
If you’re wealthy enough to invest in a private fund, one of the prime benefits is the comparative lack of regulation. Less regulation brings about greater investment risks, but also the potential for greater investment rewards. Private funds in certain nations can be tax effective collective investment entities. Each nation offers specific benefits for private funds. For example, a private fund can be set up very quickly – within 15 days of submitting the required documents. Neither an administrator nor annual audits are required, which is a benefit for investors who are weary of regulation.
EFFECTIVENESS AND EFFICIENCY OF PUBLICAND PRIVATE
Public Account Committeesis a mechanism established in terms of section114(2) of the Constitution, to maintain oversight of the exercise of Executive Authority andprovincial organs of state, and to ensure that Executive organs of state account to the Legislature.
However, it should be noted that the effectiveness and efficiency of the PACs is primarily based
on how best the Committee conduct its oversight functions and how best they hold theExecutives accountable for the use of public resources.
The current state of oversight and accountability shows that significant strides have beenachieved by the PACs, primarily due to capacity development offered by the APACs. The capacity development programmes initiated by APACs are starting to yield positive results. At the current moment, the Executives do take the PACs seriously as compared to the past ten years ago. In the past, only Accounting Officers used to attend the PACs public hearings. However, continuous trainings received by Members and staff of the PACs and the realisation of the PACs roles by the Executives have led to maximum attendance. At the current moment Ministers, MEC and Premiers do accompany Accounting Officers to the hearings, and if necessary they also respond to questions raised by the PACs.
In addition, many departments, public entities and municipalities used to get disclaimers and adverse audit opinions. The situation is gradually changing for the better. This is primarily due to the requisite skills and knowledge acquired by Members of the public and private account committees when performing oversight responsibilities over the Executives. For instance, in the 2009/10 financial year, the Auditor-General Limpopo reported that 67%, 25% and 8% of the Limpopo Provincial Departments audited received unqualified, qualified and disclaimer of opinions respectively (Auditor-General of South Africa, 2009/10). Very few departments currently obtain disclaimers. In addition, the municipalities are also coming into the picture as far as clean audit is concern. For instance, Fetakgomo Local Municipality managed to obtain a financially unqualified opinion with no other findings in the 2009/10 financial year (Auditor-General of South Africa, 2011).
The situation is improving gradually, which demonstrate the improvement in the institutions oversight and accountability practices. The ability of the PACs to track resolutions, making reference to the PAC in Limpopo, demonstrates that progress has been made to ensure that the Committees work is effective andefficient. Although other PACs in AkwaIbom State still experience challenges when it comes to effective oversight and accountability – mostly due to lack of capacity, the increase in the number of resolutions implemented by the departments and public entities, and transparency in the form of disclosures of expenditures, further provide evidence that PACs work is progressing.
ROLE OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE ACCOUNT COMMITTEES IN IMPROVING
Poor service delivery cost government a lot of money and increases service delivery protests. The public and private account committeeshas critical role to play in ensuring that high quality service is delivered to the public and private sector.
The roles played by public and private account committees are as follows:
- They scrutinize the use of public funds on behalf of Parliament and Legislatures.
- Ensures that government departments and public entities effectively, efficiently andeconomically use the available public resources to meet delivery goals and for the benefit of the public.
- Ensures that maximum performance is attained, but at the same time not compromising the quality of service rendered to the public.
- Ensures that government departments and publicand private entities are held accountable for non-compliance with regulations.
CHALLENGES OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE ACCOUNT COMMITTEES WITH REGARDS TO BEING EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENTIN EXECUTING THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATES
It may prove quite a challenge for public and private account committeesto critically assess its weaknesses, but at the same time it should be noted that the recognition of weaknesses is not a failure it is an opportunity to find constructive ways to learn, grow and evolve. The public and private account committees indifferent jurisdictions faces various challenges, amongst them, are as follows:
(a) Capacity Constrains:The effectiveness and efficiency of the public and private account committees is also determined bythe technical support they received from the support staff. The public and private account committees are expected to perform at its best, but there is a lot of work which is done by support staff before and after the Committee has conducted its oversight and accountability work. Such work (e.g.drafting of questions, logistic arrangement for hearing, drafting of resolutions and tracking the implementation of resolutions) requires that the public and private account committees has enough support staff. At the current moment, most of the public and private account committees are served by two support staff, which is not enough, considering the volume of work that need to be processed. There is also lackof skills that can cover all aspects ranging from information technology, financial management and public administration. In addition, as government budget and expenditures increases, it will require changes in the current systems of financial management. Such changes will also require that more resources and technical expertisebe devoted to the public and private account committees so that it can be effective when executing its functions.
(b) Shift of public and private account committees Members and support staff:Public and private account committees mostly deal with issues that have happened in the past financial years. Institutional memory from Members and support staff thus becomes important for the effectiveness of the Committee. When Members and support staffs are being shifted from one Committee to the other, Committees turn to lose vital information, knowledge and skills which can be used as a “weapon” to make strong follow-ups, and to effectively track the implementation of resolutions.
(c) Budgetary Constrains:Most public and private account committees operate within a limited budget, which hinders ontheir oversight work. Lack of budget also implies that even if there is training forMembers and support staff, not all Members nor support staff will have an opportunity to attend such a training. Lack of budget means that few Members and support staff have to be elected or seconded to attend the training.
(d) Work Backlogs: the Legislatures programmes are too congested, coupled with political
commitment from Members, increases workload and backlogs. All those workloads andbacklogs need to be dealt with, but at the same time not compromising robust oversightand accountability.
(e) Powers of the Public and Private Account Committees: Unlike in countries such as Australia, public and private account committees in AkwaIbom State don’t have powers to impose fine for regulations transgression. The power of the public and private account committees inAkwaIbom State is limited to making recommendations to the House. The interesting part is that the public and private account committees are considered as the “watchdog” for public funds, but the media fraternity often indicates that the public and private account committees don’t have teeth to bite those who steal tax payer’s money. Lack of power also results in other resolutions not being implemented.
(f) Partisan:Evidence suggests that other decisions taken by the public and private account committees are often influencedby political affiliation and factions, and does not often represent the interest of the public.Such approaches compromise the effectiveness and efficiency of oversight andaccountability work.
(g) Readiness to Account:Number of departments and public entities being dismissed at the
public and private account committees public hearings, and the department’s tendency of submitting documents to public and private account committees, indicates that most Accounting Officers are not that ready to account forthe use of public funds. The responses provided quite often lacks supporting evidence, which make it difficult to take decision on whether the resolution has indeed been implemented or not. All these challenges lead to department being dismissed from the hearing, which also increases workload and demand for more resources. At the end, it also shift the target of the Committee, the target will be to finish the workload, which often compromises oversight and accountability work.
(h) Integrity Over Financial Matters:Public and private account committees also faces a challenge of assuring the public that public resources are effectively and efficiently managed. If the Committee can providethat assurance.
However, evidence of corruption and misuse of public funds makes it difficult for the Committee to provide such assurance to the public with high degree of confidence.
Public and Private Partnership funding remains one of the “Special purpose in the sector” available to the Akwa Ibom State government to revive the comatose public corporations and utilities, expand the installed capacity of the existingones and embark on the development of new public infrastructures, with the aim of delivering quality public goods and services of global standard. Best practices of Public and Private Partnership will enable the private sectoroperators to deploy sound business management and finance in the production and provision of affordable andcost effective goods and services, cause the efficient allocation of material and humanresources, andthe transformation of the public sector into employmentgenerator, povertyreducing and alleviating agent,revenuegenerator, allied businesses and value creator.
The implication of the foregoing includes that, Public and Private Partnership funding will stimulate a greater state of development in all sectors since funding and evaluation are more efficiently executed. This wouldinvariably reduce poverty rate in the state, curtail corruption, provide avenue for human capital development and reduce the outbreaks of avoidable epidemics.
The Public Accounts Committees have essential role to play in ensuring that the quality servicedelivered to the public is improved, by ensuring that effective oversight over the Executives isconducted. The effectiveness and efficiency of the Public Accounts Committees in conducting oversight over theExecutives has been strengthened over the years, mostly through capacity development programmes offered by the APACs and Southern Africa Development Community Organization of Public Accounts Committees (SADCOPAC). The number of resolutions taken and implemented thereof by the Executives clearly provides evidence that progress has been made bythe Public Accounts Committees to effectively and efficiently conduct oversight and to be able to hold the Executivesaccountable for the use of public resources. However, the dynamic nature of the Public Accounts Committees workrequires that Public Accounts Committees Members and support staff are at the cutting edge of knowledge construction, specifically when it comes to oversight and accountability practices.
In addition, service delivery protest demonstrated across South Africa, and corruption cases as reported in the media fraternity, indicates that more still need to be done by the Public Accounts Committees. Considering various challengesfaced by Public Accounts Committees, the APACs and Southern Africa Development Community Organization of Public Accounts Committees (SADCOPAC) have more that should offer the Public Accounts Committees when it comes to effective and efficient oversight and accountability practices.
In view of the above, the study therefore recommends as follow:
- Akwa Ibom State Government should extend the provisions of the most accessible, qualitative and cost effective health care and other services by going into partnership with the private in all the sectors and in the management of the health centres in the state.
- Strong monitoring team comprising the government and private sectors representatives, religious bodies, the academia and civil society should be formed and well mobilized to ensure standard implementation and constant maintenance.
- AkwaIbom State Government should ensure the extension of the operations of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) beyond the national level to the state and other establishments as well as creation of access to credit securities for Public and Private Partnership operators.
- Government and other financial agencies or institutions should assist in partnering with the private sector by providing adequate fund that will enhance speedy provision of infrastructural facilities in the state and Nigeria at large.
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