On more than one occasion this year, our Minister of Finance has had reason to warn that we are not yet out of the proverbial woods. Indeed, he has called on us all to hold strain and to stay the course with him and the rest of the Freundel Stuart-led administration.
Our Prime Minister too has sought to reinforce this position of the Government.
And, to a large extent, Barbadians have done just as they have been asked. But the
209 pages of the latest Auditor General’s Report, sadly, do not indicate any similar self-restraint by our very Government.
Over the course of the past week, we have gone to great pains to publish chapter and verse of the 2014 report of the Auditor General Leigh Trotman. Not because we had nothing better to do, or were lacking in news material to fill our ePaper pages, but given the precarious economic situation in which we continue to find ourselves, with no clear end in sight, we felt this report was required reading, as it gives crisp insight into our Government’s management of our finances.
What is startling, though, is the level at which our state has been found wanting.
In fact, after reading Leigh Trotman’s annual report from cover to cover, we feel that there is more culpable evidence therein than there is in the much talked about CLICO forensic audit report.
This is not to say we are letting former CLICO chairman Leroy Parris et al. off the hook for their part in the 2009 collapse of the former insurance giant, but with all the talk about criminal charges, the Acting Police Commissioner may faster bring charges in response to the irrefutable charges made by Mr Trotman.
And while he is at it, the goodly police chief may also want to explain payments in excess of $800,000, which were reportedly made to assistant commissioners, senior superintendents, superintendents, assistant superintendents and inspectors for claims in respect of daily travel from home to office and return during 2013-2014.
We note that no written authorization had been provided to support these monthly payments, ranging from $760 to $1,780; but such payments should never have been.
We are therefore in agreement with the Auditor General that this practice should be discontinued, as there is no justifiable reason why officers should be routinely paid for travelling to and from work without authorization from the Ministry of the Civil Service. In a phrase, we say bloody shameful!
And while the amount charged may not be as much the $4 million paid for the ill-constructed Crab Hill Police Station in St Lucy, over which the Government has been threatening to name top officials of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, we feel it is just as wrong and leaves us to ponder aloud: “Who will guard the guards?”
Still, in the absence of full details, we are not prepared to paint all our senior police officers with the same brush, neither are we naïve to think that the problems are all the making of the any one administration.
We note with interest the deafening silence of the authorities –– both past and present –– on the Auditor General’s most recent findings. Maybe, it is because the revelations have served to highlight the fact that neither is without sin and therefore should not dare to cast the first stone.
When you think of it, much of the pain and suffering that has been blamed on our Minister of Finance could have actually been avoided if Government were to collect the $400 million in outstanding VAT, plus the $250 million in outstanding NIS contributions. At the very least, we may have all been able to receive our returns on time.
Who knows? Maybe Mr Sinckler would have also been able to make a significant dent in our fiscal deficit, minus the need for sending home some 3,000 public servants, or fighting up with with Dr David Estwick about sugar, outrageous UAE proposals and the like.
He may have even been able to avoid that horrible garbage tax, not to mention added leverage in Cabinet against the outspoken Dr Estwick, who from the audit report may want to spend more time cleaning up his ministry’s act.
Among the outstanding questions arising out of the audit report for the Minister of Agriculture to answer are: what ever happened to the $30 000 plus approved for Barbados Water Authority personnel to participate in a Utilities Best Practice United Kingdom Study Tour from July 10 to 17, 2010, that never came off?
Also, why was $462,786.26 paid for goods that were never delivered? And, why was the ministry quoted BDS$61,200 on another invoice dated June 11, 2010, but payment was made for US$61,200?
Furthermore, Dr Estwick, tell us about the goods ordered from another firm which totalled $351,086.59 and were paid for, but never delivered. Certainly, someone needs to be held accountable, in much the same way as a minister was ultimately held accountable back in 2003 when a contractor was paid $11,500 for cutting down an ackee tree.
Ironically, the Democratic Labour Party Government came to power back in 2008 on a strong platform of obliterating such colossal waste, and at the height of public outcry about the exorbitant spending on the Dodds Prisons, the ABC Highway and the like. But now, it would seem the DLP is determined to outdo the Barbados Labour Party on extravagance.
Instead of taxing us all to the grave, we suggest that greater emphasis be placed on closing the now very visible cracks in our Government, especially as it relates to expenditure. And, instead of threatening to go after a list of law-abiding private investors with a legitimate stake in CLICO, perhaps our Prime Minister would serve us all
better by acting on the list of delinquent Government departments, as detailed by the audit report.
Otherwise, not only the work of the Auditor General, but Mr Stuart’s entire Government might be reduced to nothing more than waste.