Public officers, including Cabinet ministers could soon be sent to jail for refusing to appear before the Accountant General to give an account of state funds over which they have responsibility.
During debate on the Public Finance Management Bill 2018 in the House of Assembly this afternoon, Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment Marsha Caddle said this is one of the provisions of the proposed legislation, which she described as fundamental and transformational.
Referring to the role and responsibilities of the Accountant General, Caddle noted that he or she may summon a person for the purpose of conducting an audit or examination under the Act. The Accountant General may also require a person to produce any records or information, she added.
“A person summoned under sub section 3A, who, without reasonable excuse, fails to obey the summons, is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months, or to both,” the minister added, quoting the Bill.
She contended that a public officer cannot simply decide they do not want to be held accountable under the provisions, institutions and systems that have been established to hold “us all” accountable.
Caddle said there are also provisions in the proposed legislation intended for those, like some under the former administration, who when asked questions by the Accountant General and the Auditor General or are summoned to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, decided these key institutions and laws meant to hold them accountable, did not matter.
“And what were they saying? That the people of Barbados did not matter and they could do as they liked without fear of consequence and with impunity. We are here today to say that those days are over, she cautioned.
She said this proposed law was being introduced to deal with the “worse that might come up among us” in the future.
Minister Caddle said the Bill requires the Ministry of Finance to prepare a document known as the fiscal framework which will review the performance of the previous financial year against the fiscal objectives, present a macro economic outline for the country and set out the fiscal objectives and policies for the medium term.
She noted that fiscal framework would also include the information and statement and the Minister of Finance would provide that framework to the Cabinet for approval, no later than July 31 of the year preceding the annual budget.
“I want us to understand how fundamental this part of the Bill is. It gives the country a timetable to expect its Government to be able to plan and report. So none of this last minute guessing about when will Estimates be, when will the Budget be, when will we know what has happened in the year before. We are binding ourselves to be able to report and to be accountable,” Caddle told the House.
She noted that the fiscal framework must also be laid in Parliament no later than August 15 of the year preceding the annual budget and any recommendation regarding this shall be considered by the Cabinet.