Judicial spending on Contingency Warrant concerns PAC

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BY GEORGINA KEKEA

THE amount locked for the remuneration of the High Court Judge to preside over the Town Ground Plaza civil case has cost government more than one million dollars.

In the PAC report on the 2017 Supplementary Appropriation Bill (SAB) 2018, $1,380,064 was itemised as additional funding for High Court judge’s remuneration to preside over the Town Ground Plaza civil case.

With this much amount budgeted under Contingency Warrant (CW), the PAC is concerned that CW has not been fully utilised for the case.

“These locked up funds could be utilised for other purposes,” the Committee said.

The PAC is also concerned that local judges lacked technical skills to preside over complex commercial civil cases such as the Town Ground plaza case.

The Judicial Ministry had confirmed before the Committee that the case has gone to the Court of Appeal and judgement delivered.

The Ministry also told PAC that the law was said to restrict the number of judges to six so the Ministry is unable to recruit additional judges.

“There is a need to upskill and train high court judges so that they can be able to preside over complex commercial cases,” a recommendation from the PAC report said.

At the same time, the committee noted that the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs had found it difficult to recruit a consultant for a project on dispute resolution.

During the scrutiny of the 2017 SAB 2018, the Ministry informed the Committee that a CW was raised for $2.5 million in 2017 to fund a study on alternative dispute resolution.

This was not spent, thus it was appropriated again in 2018 under the 2018 Appropriation 2018 Act.

Since the Ministry found it difficult to recruit a consultant for the project, funds provided by DFAT was held under the watch of the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Committee in its conclusions said, responsible ministries, in particular Ministry of Finance fails to adhere to repeated advices by the Committee to strengthen its budgetary process and make provisions to avert the use of CW for foreseen expenditures and recurrent expenditures.

The Committee also re-emphasise that spending of monies intended for public good without parliament’s approval is illegal and monies should be appropriated prior to any expenditures.

At the same time, underspending was also an issue raised by PAC in their report.

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