Between October and December 2019, Dr Anna Dickson, Head of International Affairs and Defence Section in the House of Commons Research and Information Team, undertook a secondment to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Anguilla House of Assembly. Here, Dr Dickson reflects back on her experiences in Anguilla, the contribution that she was able to make, and her thoughts on the future of the PAC.
It was a challenging and rewarding experience. The main challenges were around resources. There was and still is, only one Clerk for the Assembly. I become the second one. Unlike in the UK where each Committee has a staff of six or more, I had to undertake all the tasks of the secretariat. In some ways it was not difficult because there were only four members of the Committee, and they were all keen to make the Committee function well. In other ways it was a challenge because the PAC is the first and only select committee in Anguilla. So there is no precedent - everything, from agendas to formal minutes had to be created from scratch.
For me it was important to put in place systems that would last beyond my secondment. I drafted a manual for the future clerk of the PAC setting out the key things a clerk should do, including stressing the importance of serving all members of the committee regardless of political views.
I also drafted a handbook for the members of PAC so that future committee members would know what to expect, and how to ensure the committee could hold the government to account effectively.
During my time there the Committee published two reports. The first was based on evidence taken more than a year before. The second was based on a new inquiry which the Committee launched in October. By holding a public evidence session, the Committee was able to practice their questioning skills which they had had previous training on. The PAC also published its formal minutes for the first time. This was well received by the public and we had many positive comments on the fact that this was now happening on a regular basis.
In light of the recent General Elections in Anguilla (29 June 2020), I believe the biggest challenges facing the new PAC will be:
1. Staffing - without a dedicated clerk it will be difficult for the Committee to function effectively and to be productive.
2. The relationship with the Auditor General - at present the contract is managed by the Government. To ensure independence and political impartiality, that contract should be managed by the Assembly. This would be more in keeping with practice elsewhere.
Dr Anna Dickson's Secondment was facilitated by the UK Overseas Territories Project, a programme of support for public financial management led by CPA UK, in partnership with the UK National Audit Office (NAO) and the UK Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA). Click here for more information on the UK Overseas Territories Project.