Changes are being seen in the government’s approach to the budget process. Yesterday morning the Minister of Finance Hon. Crossley Tatui was the first to appear before the Legislative Assembly Fono Ekepule Public Accounts Committee to answer questions about the new budget estimates.
Minister Tatui spoke to BCN News yesterday after his appearance before the Committee saying that being summoned to the parliamentary select committee is a good constructive process.
“I took it as a new change, very constructive progress forward for us, for myself as the minister responsible for finance. We were able to dialogue on many issues mainly in respect of the deficit budget we have of $12.5 million which is high by numerical terms but the actual path going forward is how we are going to deal with it”.
In past years the government’s budget process was facilitated by the Treasury Department where the Budget Committee will go through the budget estimates submitted by each government department. The Committee will go through the estimates and make reductions to try to balance the budget or minimise the deficit.
In this new process, the budget is presented in a raw form, which is the actual estimates submitted by the government departments without the Treasury and Budget Committee’s intervention.
This is the reason the deficit is at $12.5 million because the estimates are exactly as the government departments submitted.
The minister was asked some tough questions by the Public Accounts Committee as to how the government will address the deficit budget.
“I think the reforms that we are carrying out at the moment should help us to restore our credibility as a country, our integrity as a government, and the way we do things we do things going forward”.
Minister Tatui said that these reforms are necessary to gain the respect of the donor partners like New Zealand and Australia and multi-lateral organsiations but it is also important to understand that there are other factors that contribute to the government’s financial predicament.
“Bearing in mind as well that we do not have the luxury of borrowing money from overseas countries or banks like other countries in the region can,” said Minister Tatui.
These are the types of tough questions that we have to work on seriously together as a community. It is not impossible, we will get there but bear in mind that we have challenges before us. The reforms are very important, and we must do it now. If we don’t, we will continue in future to suffer from problems and challenges” says Hon. Crossley Tatui.
One achievement of the government is to finally address the outstanding audit reports which are now nearly completed, in a consolidated report covering six financial years.
“We all know the audit reports are outstanding by six years. We finally come to agree with Deloittes and the New Zealand Audit office that these outstanding accounts can be consolidated into one whole set of accounts. By 30th June we should be able to complete the six years of outstanding accounts so that we can have a clean slate going forward from 1st July 2022”.
Over the next few days and into next week the heads of departments will be summoned before the Public Accounts Committee to answer their questions and justify their budget requests for the new financial year.
BCN news requested restricted access to the sittings of the Committee but was declined. The PAC is chaired by Deputy Chairperson and Member assisting the Minister (MAM) Hon. John Operator Tiakia.