by Shawn Cumberbatch
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee is investigating concerns about Government’s finances.
And Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley, who chairs the body, disclosed today that the probe included the National Housing Corporation’s failure to provide audited financial statements for the last five years.
This follows Auditor General Leigh Trotman’s recent concerns about government’s accounting practices and his simultaneous complaint that the PAC was not adequately following up on issues his office highlighted.
Mottley told Barbados TODAY that when the seven-member committee meets tomorrow for the fourth time since this session of the House of Assembly convened in March, it will engage the heads of the Inland Revenue Department and Value Added Tax. The PAC also expects to hear from senior officials of the Ministry of Housing and NHC to learn why the state agency has not reported on its finances since 2008.
“Basically what has happened is that we have had three meetings so far and we have taken presentations from the Auditor General and the Accountant General,” she said.
“And pursuant to those presentations we have asked to meet with the head of Inland Revenue and the head of VAT to address issues raised in the report by the Auditor General, as well as to meet with the Permanent Secretary, (Ministry of) Housing and the Chairman and CEO of National Housing (Corporation) with regard to the situation with their failure to file reports for the last five years.”
In his 2012 report laid in Parliament in March, the Auditor General called on the PAC to play a more active role in resolving issues raised in his annual reports, noting it had not “reviewed” any recent editions of the document.
“The Public Accounts Committee is a committee of Parliament established primarily to review the financial statements of state enterprises and all reports of the Auditor General that are tabled in Parliament. The committee also has a role in reviewing the adequacy of the funding, staff administrative structures and reporting capabilities of my office. The committee can then make recommendations to Parliament to correct any deficiencies it has observed,” he said in his most recent report.
“During January 2012, the committee met to consider the annual budget of the Audit Office as required by Section 38 of the Financial Management and Audit Act, 2007-11. The Committee had indicated that it would be reviewing a number of special and annual reports which were submitted by the Auditor General. Unfortunately, such reviews however never took place.
“The role of the Public Accounts Committee is critical in the accountability cycle of Government. The committee can call on accounting officers and other public officials to explain issues reported in the audit reports and, if warranted, make recommendations to Parliament for corrective action. The committee has, however, not reviewed any of the reports of the Auditor General for the past five years,” Trotman added.
The Auditor General had also complained that in relation to Government’s finances “there continue to be considerable shortcomings in the accounts presented which have so far resulted in the Audit Office being unable to verify that the financial statements are presented fairly and in accordance with International Public Sector Accounting standards”. Mottley, who spoke briefly this morning ahead of tomorrows discussions, said she could not prejudge the outcome of the PAC’s work.
“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 stated.
In addition to the St. Michael North East representative the other Barbados Labour Party MPs on the PAC are former Prime Minister Owen Arthur (St. Peter), Shadow Minister of Industry, Commerce and International Business Kerrie Symmonds (St. James Central).
Government is represented on the committee by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite (St. Philip South), Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Richard Sealy, (St. Michael South Central), Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick (St. Philip West), and Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss (St. James South).
The PAC’s function as defined by Parliament is to “examine the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure, accounts of any entities in which Government is a majority shareholder or holds a majority interest and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the committee may think fit”. firstname.lastname@example.org