The state’s chief auditor is calling for tighter laws to penalize public officers and other Government officials who refuse to fully cooperate with his department in its investigations into the management of taxpayers’ money.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY on Thursday, Auditor General Leigh Trotman said while there is legislation requiring public officers to attend meetings with the auditors during their probes of the finances of Central Government and state-owned enterprises, there is none mandating them to provide requested information.
“What I would like to see is more responsiveness to us when we are carrying out our investigations. Sometimes I find that I don’t get the type of cooperation I think I should get. The legislation has changed but maybe it could be firmer.
“If you look into the current Act you would see there is a post called Comptroller General and if they are carrying out any reviews and you don’t supply the information, then you are liable to be prosecuted. I think that would be an interesting feature for the Audit Office,” he contended.
Trotman said such a measure would ensure the auditors get the information they required.
“I think that would help us when we are carrying out our investigations. That would be a good feature.
“The system needs to function. We can set up a system and the system would say that this should happen, but it may not necessarily happen. So if the system had to work and function or Central Government goes to the Public Accounts Committee which acts like a board, it has to function like that… each person playing his own role.
“I think that if everybody played their own role then we would see, do we really need to change the system or people are not necessarily fulfilling their role or understanding their role,” the Auditor General told Barbados TODAY.
Trotman is also suggesting legislation that imposes penalties on public servants who refuse to cooperate with the Auditor General, particularly with supplying required information.
“I can’t tell you that if we got more “teeth” it wouldn’t help. Legislation could say ‘when the Auditor General Department comes in make sure you comply, otherwise there would be consequences’. “Sometimes you could have laws but the law may not necessarily specify a consequence…and to me the law should specify a consequence. If you are serious about a law, it should have some sort of penalties if you don’t comply,” he added.
So far, no one is known to have been prosecuted as a result of any questionable acts cited by the Auditor General in his reports.
In his 2020 report, he raised a series of red flags, including the potential for fraud, in Government’s accounting practices and procedures.
In a 113-page document, Trotman expressed concern about instances involving millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money wrapped up in transactions which lacked full disclosure, were not fully accounted for, misstated, understated, lacked supporting documentation or could not be verified.
Trotman’s annual report, which covers the financial year ending March 31, 2019 called on the Government to properly explain its involvement in the controversial Four Seasons Hotel project where millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money were at stake.
“The treatment of the investment in Clearwater Company needs to be further explained. The investment in this Government-owned company was recorded at a value of $124 million investment in prior years. It represented an investment by Clearwater in the Four Seasons Hotel project. The value of this investment remained unchanged on the books of Government for several years even though the property on which the investment was based was significantly impaired,” the Auditor General reported.
“In the 2018-2019 financial year, the entire investment was written off. It has not been clearly established what was the basis for the entire write-off of the investment. It was also not clear what was the nature of the investment relationship Clearwater had with the hotel owners. The investment and subsequent write-off could not, therefore, be verified by the auditors,” he added.
But in response, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn said that the $124 million invested in Four Seasons by Government was not written off because Prime Minister Mia Mottley was the lawyer previously involved in the project.
Straughn maintained that Mottley had no say in whether that money would be taken off the books.
He made the comments in response to former Democratic Labour Party minister Maxine McClean’s queries about Mottley’s role in the failed project, as she expressed concern about the write-off. ([email protected])