Incomplete annual reports and Parliament accountability

By The Editorial Board 19 March 2023, 6:00AM

A heated debate in the Legislative Assembly last week has put the spotlight on the role of the House and Members of Parliament.

Annual reports that lacked financial statements and got tabled in the Parliament became an issue of contention for the Minister of Works Transport and the Opposition Leader Lauofo Pierre Lauofo.

An article (‘Incomplete reports’ spark Parliament debate) in last Thursday’s edition of the Samoa Observer reported on the exchange between Olo Fiti Va'ai and Lauofo Pierre Lauofo in the chamber.

The Minister accused the former Administration of using delay tactics to prolong the processes of compiling and putting together reports from Parliamentary Committees for tabling and debate in the Parliament. 

He also claimed that the former Administration politicised the process which he added resulted in incomplete reports being submitted, which delayed their presentation to the Parliament.

"This can validate the tune we have been singing all this time on transparency, accountability, and good governance," said Olo. 

"We need to weigh in the importance of the work carried out by parliamentary committees and to do that, we need to have all the information needed and full reports. 

"This was a delay tactic used by the former Administration and we need to change that and dust it out. It drags how we carry out the work for the different committees and we need to continue with what we are doing right now."

Naturally, the statement in the House didn’t go down well with the Opposition Leader, who rejected the accusations, and asked what would the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) Administration get from using delay tactics.

"It's just that the reports were not tabled and presented to parliament," Lauofo claimed. "But everything was submitted to the office. The reports are also completed."

"What would we get from delay tactics? 

"There was no such thing as delay tactics. There may have been a delay in the submission of the reports, but by the time it's tabled in parliament, everyone has a fair understanding of the reports. We never hid anything from the public."

Ok, let’s stop here and analyse the above statements made by the two seasoned politicians, by trying to establish the facts. First, it appears there were annual reports submitted by the different government ministries or agencies during the term of the last Administration, which did not include financial statements. Second, the absence of financial statements from the annual reports delayed their submission to the Parliament. Third, the failure to submit and table those annual reports in the Parliament, could have led to the legislators being denied the opportunity to scrutinise those public institutions, in line with their mandate as the elected representatives of the people.

This is why we welcome the debate on the floor of the Parliament’s chamber last week. These are signs of a healthy democracy, with our legislators using every opportunity to not only keep the public institutions accountable but also scrutinise the actions of the public servants managing them.

What about the delays in submitting and tabling the annual reports of public institutions as the Opposition Leader made reference to? Well, we note the admission by Lauofo of the possible delays in the submission of the reports, who then declared that “we never hid anything from the public!”

Obviously, the debate in the Parliament last week uncovered some of those pitfalls which need to be identified and resolved. Some of the key questions to ask are who were those officials responsible for the timely submission of the annual reports? Why didn’t those officials include financial statements in the annual reports? And what is the track record of the different public institutions in consistently submitting their annual reports for tabling in the Parliament and in a timely fashion?

Nonetheless, it is time for our Members of Parliament to admit that there are hurdles in the system, which are impeding the Legislative Assembly and the country’s legislators from carrying out their constitutional functions.

The revelation of the delay in government entities submitting their annual reports could potentially point to a bigger problem: the failure of public servants to account for all public expenditures including funding.

It is time to publicise details of those government entities that have delayed the submission of their annual reports to the Parliament. Even if those annual reports date back to the tenure of the former Administration – it is within the rights of citizens to know how public funds were expended.

By The Editorial Board 19 March 2023, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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