It is refreshing to see the Public Accounts Committee back in action, keeping the government’s feet to the fire on how they spend the public’s money.
Today’s (and yesterdays) meeting into the Auditor General’s concerns regarding funds provided to three related companies – all owned by the same group of people – that received three grants totaling around $1.3 million from the Natural Resource’s Department’s Growing Forward program.
As the pot of money for the program is finite in any given year , all of the investment meant much less for other areas of the province.
Wayne Loveys pointed out that in his interpretation the company should not have been eligible for the grants. This begs the question, if they were not eligible, why were officials in the department’s recommendations overruled? Was there political interference by the local member? Who was the minister at the time, Jerome Kennedy or Dunderdale? Has the Growing Forward program become a political slush fund?
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts is an all-party committee, chaired by Liberal MHA Jim Bennett. I am pretty confident that with Jim at the helm, this PAC will not be a barking dog without teeth. This is the 5th public hearing this year by the group.
The PAC needs to prove that it is important tool in the fight against corruption, largess, waste and patronage using public tax dollars. The public, and the media, have offered concerns in the past that the PAC's work has not been fully lived up to it’s potential in terms of holding government to account.
I anticipate more grilling of public officials to accountable and a more intense security of government accounts. Keep in mind that the government still holds the cards – they have a majority of members on the PAC. I would much prefer if the PAC was a secretariat allowing the committee to do it’s work independently with the resource people and capacity to function better