LOCAL GOVERNMENT PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEES: A Case for Sustainable Transparency and Partnerships in Jamaica
Author: Robert H.P. Hill, MSc, BSc. Senior Director of Local Government Administration & Governance in the Ministry of Local Government & Community Development – Government of Jamaica
Jamaica has been engaged in a progressive reform of its Local Government system since 1993 and has emerged as a leading force and innovator in the development of broadening and deepening the practice of effective local democracy through the tenets of good governance.
Despite the various challenges based on the obvious lack of resources, capacity to raise revenue, the dependency on central government transfers and the quality of service delivery all impact the pace at which local government reform is implemented. As such, an effective counter-balance and major thrust in assuring sustainability within the system is the strengthening of partnerships with civil society and community organizations in order mobilize the key initiatives and establish policies and priorities specific to respective local jurisdictions.
One such recent initiative has been the establishment of Local Public Accounts Committees (LPACs); these Committees have emerged as one of the main responses in the search to identify and institute mechanisms that will help to achieve the goals of accountability, openness and transparency. These mechanisms are critical in ensuring that Local Authorities allocate and use public resources and powers that are entrusted to them for the purposes for which they are intended; that they do so in accordance with the highest standards of ethics, probity and sound/prudent financial management; and also in keeping with public policy, in respect of which citizens have had a voice in their determination. In this regard, an important dimension of local government reform is to identify, devise and institute systems that will contribute to realizing the critical goal of enhancing the accountability of Local Authorities to their citizenry, and will help to improve the confidence of citizens regarding the manner in which these Authorities transact their business and conduct the affairs of their respective locales. Therefore, the establishment and operation of the LPAC is heavily dependent on the active involvement of citizens in order to create the ideal environment of partnerships and solutions-based community development models.
As such, the LPACs shall have the authority to examine the following:
Reports of the Internal and External Auditors
Reports and proceedings of the Council’s Procurement and Audit Committees
Revenue and Expenditure Reports of the Council
Monthly and Annual Financial Statements regarding the Accounts and financial status, transactions and performance of the Council.
Reports regarding the Council’s control, custody and use of its assets.
Reports and other indications of the Council’s performance regarding its meeting service delivery standards, benchmarks and guidelines
Citizens Complaints Register and response mechanisms
These Committees have been established in the majority of Local Authorities across Jamaica, notwithstanding, there are capacity issues to be addressed, however the foundational modalities have found support from all relevant stakeholders and is now being examined by other Caribbean States that have Local Government systems to replicate this Committee as an ideal model that will contribute to more effective and responsive and responsible governance at the local and municipal levels.