Auditor General Leigh Trotman has once again raised alarms over the availability of Government’s financial reports for his scrutiny as mandated by law.
In fact, the high-profile Government agency has formally made representation to the Mia Mottley Administration to free up that constitutional office from any possibility of interference in its daily operations and to clear the way for the office to take action against delinquent departments.
The Auditor General, in his annual report for 2019 tabled in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, revealed that during the year under review, he wrote the Public Service Ministry – which falls under the Prime Minister – asking for the right to run the Office of Auditor-General without outside influence or directives.
“During the course of the year I submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Public Service for greater autonomy for the Office. This proposal was in keeping with international best practice which suggests that audit offices performed better when they are free from the possibility of operational interference,” Trotman wrote in his introductory comments to the report which the Constitution and the Financial Management and Audit Act require him to submit to Parliament for tabling.
“It is of particular concern that the financial statements of the Government of Barbados, prepared by the Treasury Department, for the financial year ending 31 March, 2019, have not been presented at the time of writing.” Trotman pointed out.
“The lateness in the presentation of these accounts for audit is a relatively new occurrence and should be of serious concern to the Government. Action needs to be taken to resolve this issue as a matter of urgency,” the Auditor General warned.
Apart from the Central Government, he reports that there are still a number of state agencies that are years behind in their accounts including the National Insurance Fund whose books have not been examined by him for the past seven years.
Trotman pointed out that the Constitution grants the power to the relevant Public Service Commission to recruit and discipline public officers, an authority he contended can be entrusted elsewhere.
“So either the Commission can delegate this authority to another body or person, or the Office can operate as a statutory body. I would recommend that the delegation option be exercised,” the Auditor General suggested.
Further, Trotman argued that there is already precedent for delegation of authority with the Chief Education Officer for recruitment.
“The benefit of this delegation would be faster employment of staff and decision-making as it relates to human resource management,” he added.
Over the years, there have been calls from various prominent individuals and interest groups – political and civil – to give the Auditor General more legal “teeth” to make people in the public service “pay” for the financial irregularities and breaches of law which the Auditor General highlights annually and that are not addressed.
In fact, back in 2017, outspoken former Chairman of the Financial Services Commission Sir Frank Alleyne called for the office of Auditor General to be abolished and replaced with a much more powerful Contractor General empowered to bring criminal charges.
Sir Frank Alleyne had expressed frustration that for years the financial irregularities magnified by the Auditor General’s reports as well as his recommendations for action continued to be ignored by successive administrations.
The economist, known for his no-nonsense approach to the administration of Government, described the situation as a “scandal”.
And in his latest report, the Auditor General again expressed concern about the conduct of various Government agencies over their non-compliance with the financial management and audit laws and their breaches of international best practices.
The Auditor General is required by the Constitution to examine the accounts of all Ministries and Government Departments and other financial statements and accounts mandated to be audited by him.
Trotman said that while steady progress was made during the last financial year with a number of agencies in submitting outstanding accounts, he was particularly worried that, up to the time of writing his report, the financial statements of the Government itself had not been presented to him.
However, Trotman praised the Ministry of Finance for its drive in trying to get the agencies to submit their financial records in a timely manner. [email protected]
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