Like clockwork, Barbados’ Auditor General Leigh Trotman is drawing to our attention a long list of apparent infractions of the country’s financial rules regarding the use of millions of dollars in state funds.
Mr Trotman’s role is not to be envied. For while he enjoys certain protections under the law, he is still exposed to civil action where he can be sued for statements he makes in public disclosures of his annual report.
It is appalling that Parliamentarians are allowed near absolute privilege in their statements from the floor of the House of Assembly while the Auditor General must operate in fear of being sued for carrying out his duties.
We note Mr Trotman’s appeal to the very MPs with the power to enact the necessary legislative changes, that they ought to prioritise those protections for his office.
In the latest report for the financial year ended March 31, 2022, Trotman makes it clear that Parliament needs to act quickly. How can Mr Trotman and his team be expected to undertake such important work on behalf of the people of this country, while he also faces such legal exposure.
“The lawsuit against the Auditor General remains unresolved at the time of writing. This suit is in relation to the 2019 report that referenced the special audit which was conducted on the Barbados Water Authority.”
Trotman further outlines: “In some jurisdictions, there is a provision in the legislation that stipulates that any document produced in good faith by or on behalf of the Auditor General, in the course of the performance, duties or functions under any Act of Parliament, is privileged.
“This type of amendment to the law is required in order to minimise court actions against the Office of the Auditor General in the future.”
While our parliamentarians consider this required protection for the Auditor General who often uncovers very uncomfortable truths for the political administration in power, it is also time to give his office the power to bring prosecutions where they are warranted.
We can look to our neighbour and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member Jamaica, which has created the Office of Contractor General who has much greater power than the Auditor General.
The main function of the Contractor General is to monitor and investigate, on behalf of Parliament, matters relating to the award of Government contracts. The Contractor General also monitors the award and implementation of licences and permits for operators of activities such as stone quarries. He can also seek prosecutions.
The Auditor General’s report in Barbados has long been used as a cudgel to bash the administration in office. This is particularly so since allegations of corruption frequently surface in political platform speeches.
This year, Mr Trotman has turned the spotlight on the state-owned Sam Lord’s Castle Hotel, the St Philip tourism development which transcends two administrations.
Expected to open its doors in time for the 2023 winter tourist season, it has been cited for breaches of Rule 60 (1) of the Financial Rules which requires that all expenditure must be provided for in the Estimates.
Trotman tells us there were several issues identified in relation to the recording of transactions for its construction. “As at 31st March 2022, the records of the Treasury show that [$241.51 million] was received from the Export Import Bank of China for the project. In this regard, it would be expected that assets of a similar amount would also have been recorded to correspond with the amount expended on this investment,” the Auditor General stated.
“However, only [$65.72 million] has been recorded in the Assets Under Construction account. Therefore, the total asset has not been recorded accurately in the accounts.”
These are matters that require urgent clarification if Barbadians are to be confident such financial affairs are being attended with the utmost integrity.