The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados (ICAB) has called for the discrepancies uncovered by the Auditor General to be investigated to the fullest extent of the law.
Barbados TODAY reported last Thursday that in his 2019 report, Auditor General Leigh Trotman discovered that eight state-owned enterprises (SOEs) had paid out almost $11 million in fees to lawyers and chambers under questionable circumstances.
And days later, Minister of Water Resources Wilfred Abrahams revealed that a full investigation had been launched into irregularities which unearthed $1.4 billion in contracts between 2010 and 2018 at the Barbados Water Authority (BWA).
In a statement issued today, ICAB said it was concerned the discrepancies revealed in the report were not new but had been ongoing for several years.
The accounting body said these included errors in the recording of certain financial information, a lack of appropriate documentation to verify the accuracy of certain information and the long-outstanding audits of certain SOEs.
ICAB said it was even more worrisome that no action had ever been taken against the perpetrators.
The accounting guild said: “Of greater concern, is that no apparent remedial actions appear to have been taken by the entities in question to address the issues highlighted in previous reports of the Auditor General. These recurring audit issues and the length of time they have remained unresolved do not demonstrate a commitment to good corporate governance practices and accountability.
“It is unacceptable that basic accounting principles such as the recording of transactions, recognition of transactions in the correct period and ledger and bank reconciliations are not being performed which have led to the Auditor’s inability to verify amounts submitted in the Statements of Revenue and Financial Position reported by the Barbados Revenue Authority.
“This lack of accurate and timely information seriously questions the transparency and accountability in financial management and the trust and reliability over the information for sound decision-making.”
ICAB maintained that urgent action needed to be taken now to prevent a possible recurrence.
It said that similarly to how employees in the private sector were held accountable for wrongdoings, the same needed to happen in the public service.
Said ICAB: “The serious matters identified during the audit of the procurement practices and reported on in the Auditor General’s Report 2019 require an urgent response.
“In the private sector, it is standard practice for Boards of Directors to set strict deadlines for managers to correct deficiencies identified by the auditor. ICAB urges Government to do the same.
“In addition, legal and/or disciplinary action must be taken against anyone guilty of wrongdoing such as misuse and mismanagement of public funds, and serious breaches of procurement rules.
“It is incumbent upon the current Boards of Directors at all SOEs to implement the necessary controls to prevent a recurrence of the serious matters identified by the Auditor General.”
While praising Government for passing the Public Finance Management Act last year, ICAB urged the Government to implement the Integrity in Public Life Bill, which has been before the House of Assembly for the last two years.