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Public Accounts Committee Reports

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:30 pm on 29th September 2009.

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Photo of Paul Maskey Paul Maskey Sinn Féin 4:30 pm, 29th September 2009

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I suppose that one feature that maximises the effectiveness of the Public Accounts Committee is that it is not within its remit to criticise Ministers or their decisions. That is the role of the Statutory Committees. Instead, the Public Accounts Committee focuses on regularity, propriety and getting best value for money for public expenditure, and it calls for accounting officers to justify spend on those counts and to defend the systems and controls that they have put in place to safeguard taxpayers’ money. That makes for a Committee that can focus on the common purpose of financial accountability, and rarely, if ever, do party political concerns distract members from the business at hand. Today’s debate demonstrated just that, and I thank and commend my Committee colleagues for their rigour and determination to speak out against waste, fraud and inefficiency.

If I may follow on from where the Minister left off, he is correct to say that the Committee has made some 450 recommendations. That shows the determination of the Committee to strive to ensure that public services here are accountable. I remind the Minister that Members are elected by the people of the North of Ireland to ensure that accountability is enshrined in all Departments. We will tackle the issues.

The Public Accounts Committee allows the public and taxpayers to have faith in the system and, if things go wrong, to have faith that the Committee and the Audit Office will provide scrutiny. We have made 450 recommendations, and I am sure that, over the next while, we will make probably another 450 recommend­ations. That is the poor thing about it, because as the Minister’s colleague Jim Wells stated, the Public Accounts Committee will be in the business of making recommendations until it is no longer needed to do so. The Minister is part of the Executive, and I suppose that it is up to Departments to ensure that the mistakes that have been made in the past are no longer made.

I wish to add a point about risk. I have said on record that the Committee, and I, as its Chairperson, welcome risk taking as long as it is well calculated. For far too long we have seen Audit Office reports that show the absolutely disgraceful expenditure that some Departments were able to get away with for many years. The Minister is right to point out that some of the reports go back a long time. However, for far too long we were, for want of a better phrase, governed by direct rule, and there was very little scrutiny of Departments at that stage. If mistakes were made then, it is wrong to continue making the same mistakes. It is the Committee’s job to drive home the message that risk can be taken as long as it is well calculated.