Friday, April 12, 2024

THE ISSUE: Concerns not new


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It is now seven years since Parliament debated and approved the Financial Management And Audit Bill.
An identical amount of time has elapsed since a Constitutional amendment allowing the Auditor General, “on his own initiative” to examine the financial management of all Government ministries, departments, statutory bodies and other state-controlled entities.
Introducing both pieces of legislation in the House of Assembly in March 2007, then Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Clyde Mascoll said they would give a “different characteristic” to the overall governance and management of the island’s fiscal affairs.
He also said it was recognised that the Auditor General’s Office had a special role to play in ensuring that public finances were properly safeguarded and accounted for, and that there was maximum transparency in the management of public funds.
Reacting to this, Auditor General Leigh Trotman identified a number of complementary measures that needed implementation so his office could efficiently and effectively do its work.
These were: the budget of the Office should be on a lump sum basis to give it the flexibility it needs in the use of its resources; additional funds for professional services, given the department’s increased mandate and the demand for specialised technical skills; authority to advertise and recruit office staff;
a private independent auditor appointed by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to audit the Office instead of the Ministry of Finance which is itself audited by the Office; heads of Government agencies audited by the Office be given a maximum period to submit written responses to the Auditor General’s draft management letter/report.
This was in addition to sanctions taken against those responsible for breaches of relevant aspects of the Laws of Barbados since there have been numerous examples of major breaches cited in reports but little action taken; and a proposal for the re-organisation of the Office should be dealt with as a “matter of urgency”.
Then in 2009 as concern continued about financial management in the public sector and possible solutions, came the Auditor General’s assertion that the offices of the Director of Public Prosecution, the PAC and the Director of Finance had the authority to bring people to account where there was evidence of wastage or dubious usage of state funds.
“There is that three-prong course of action, and once they are working properly, then there is no problem. But sometimes they do not work properly and it can be frustrating. Sometimes I investigate these matters and do not get proper responses and these are serious matters.
“People need to take Government resources and their responsibilities more seriously,” Trotman said.
“There is general consensus that something has to be done. How we go forward from here, I am not too sure that we know how to go forward. But we concede that something has to be done. It just cannot keep going on like this all the time.”
Fast forward to April 2014 and there is the recognition that many of these issues remain a concern, not least to Auditor General Leigh Trotman, who repeatedly in recent years has documented and voiced his concerns about public accountability, including in his recently-released 2013 report.
Others have also had much to say about the issues raised via the Barbados Audit Office, including current Leader of the Opposition and PAC chairman Mia Mottley.
“Our role is to investigate, or to enquire further if necessary, into aspects of the Auditor General’s report, such that we can make recommendations to Parliament,” she said last year, while announcing that the PAC would be investigating financial management at a number of agencies including the National Housing Corporation.
More recently during this year’s Estimates debate in the Upper House, Independent Senator Tony Marshall said a part of the problem was that the Auditor General’s office “seems to lack the capacity to undertake the auditing of the several departments and boards as is necessary”.
“I am not at all making any inference as to the quality of work done, or staff within that department. I am speaking about its ability in terms of the law to allow the boards and other agencies of Government, to satisfy the requirements of the particular laws under which they were established,” he said.
He also called it “a shame” and “disgrace” that some Government entities were “now presenting accounts for 2005”.


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