Legislative oversight of expenditure, performance, and the Executive is one of the pillars of democratic governance, playing a critical role in ensuring that limited resources are utilized for maximum developmental impact, and in improving efficiency, accountability, and transparency. Viable democracy and open society depend on effective lawmaking, oversight, and representation—the three chief functions of a Legislature. The accountability of the Executive to the Legislature is ensured if certain control mechanisms are in place and are used with clarity of purpose and effectiveness of action. Question time, resolutions, call-attention notices, public hearings, confirmation of appointments, and oversight of key government activities by legislative committees are among such mechanisms. Typically, committees serve as the working arm of the Legislature; their effectiveness contributes greatly to the overall effectiveness of the Legislature.
Historically in Westminster-style political systems that are common to members of the Commonwealth, the Executive has dominated Parliament. Even with the emergence and development of parliamentary committees, several factors have tended to constrain effective checks and balances on the Executive.
These impediments include:
(a) structural issues, most notably the fact that the Executive sits within the Legislature and by definition commands a majority of votes in the House; (b) practical issues, such as limited resources (most particularly when funding for committee work is not independent of the Executive), skill deficits of legislative staff and of Members of Parliament, and Executive apathy toward committee work and products; and (c) technical issues, such as delayed or poorly focused Audit Office reports.
Generally among Commonwealth nations, the Constitution and Rules of Procedures of Parliament have set out the mechanisms for Parliamentary oversight for ensuring the financial accountability of the Executive. Some form of Committee on Finance/Budget/Public Administration will usually be mandated to examine whether money proposed in the budget aligns with the strategic objectives it is intended to serve, while the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) ususally provides ex-post scrutiny on whether expenditures were properly made under the budget, on the basis of audit reports and accounts of the government and/or public under-