Scepticism raised over government’s accounts

| 17/11/2014

(CNS): The pat on the back that government was giving itself last week over improvements in the public accounts have not convinced everyone that it is close to addressing the mammoth decade-long failure to account for how it spends tax payers' money. The president of the Chamber of Commerce and the independent member for North Side have both indicated some doubt that the Cayman Islands Government is out of the woods yet, adding to the broader skepticism in the community about the issue, as evidenced by the comments on CNS, social media and other public forum.

For the first time since the introduction of the Public Management and Finance Law in 2004, the Ministry of Community Affairs and the Ministry of Tourism managed to avoid an adverse opinion or disclaimer. For a decade these and other core government entities’ accounts have been almost un-auditable and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) has had to disclaim them or give adverse opinions spelling out the catalogue of problems about why the accounts cannot be trusted.

However not everyone has been overly impressed.

Johann Moxam, the president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, said that after ten years the revelations that all 41 government entities managed to submit their accounts within the deadline set out in the law and that two managed to get unqualified opinions was some progress but it was only a small step.

"It means the civil servants in those two entities, the Ministry of Community Affairs and the Portfolio of the Civil Service are doing their jobs properly and demonstrating improved accountability, which can be congratulated,” Moxam told CNS. “This is a small step in the right direction. But let's be candid, the Cayman Islands Government has a long road ahead in order to achieve full compliance with the PMFL.”

He said that the goal must be the timely completion of all financial statements submitted without any qualified or adverse opinions by the auditor general and his team.

“A new standard for accountability must be set and the Chamber Council supports every effort by the Ministry of Finance and the Cayman Islands Government to achieve tangible success. Every government needs unqualified and timely financial statements submitted so that they can make informed decisions regarding how to budget, forecast revenues and plan its expenses. We look forward to receiving good news of real progress,” Moxam added.

Ezzard Miller tried in vain when he was chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the legislative body that government bean counters are supposed to report to, to impose sanctions on government accountants who were failing to produce the records. He said he was happy to see that the two entities had finally managed to take the step but said someone still had to take the responsibility to get things right across the board.

“I am hoping that the bragging and the boasting will not reduce the pressure to get it done,” he said. “I think it is really premature and not that much to brag about if only two out of more than 40 have managed to get it right. Perhaps had it been the other way round government may have had something to really brag about.”

Miller noted that the government announcement came outside the normal process of the reports as it should have come via the auditor to the PAC and he wondered if government was grasping the potential good news ahead of what will be more bad news from the auditor once his work was done.

CNS has contacted the OAG for comment regarding the government’s claims that two ministries for the first time in ten years managed to get one qualified and one unqualified audit after years of disclaimers. We are awaiting a response and confirmation that he has written to the deputy governor lauding the progress.

See related story on CNS: CIG-brags-clean-audits

Category: Politics

Comments (20)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    There's one possible solution to this – only employ civil servants who have proven maths skills.

    One of the problems with the pubic sector is that, based on my experience dealing with them, they take on too many people who somehow succeeded in going through school, college and even university without mastering basic things like how to add up.

    It would be interesting to see what might happen if CIG introduced the kind of tough pre-interview literacy and numeracy tests that UK civil service departments use.     

  2. Uncivil Servant says:

    We should put up a sign, or declare a National holiday. That will convince everyone.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Let's get a team of forensic accountants to go over the records for the last 10 years.  Give them access to the bank accounts and whatever records they have kept.  I bet that would lead to some interesting revelations!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hmm. Skeptism about government accounts? Surely not?

    How about sending a government pension statement? Only can I have mine attached with a photo of the money and a photo of who is responsible should it have been "lost" or "unaccounted" for?

    Nothing else will install any faith.

  5. The Thinker says:

    Would it make sense to axe those who are too stupid or too dishonest to do their job properly?

     

  6. Anonymous says:

    I know of a certain government agency that has been telling its colleagues that they have no money, while they have been secretely stashing cash for a fake donor drive, so even if there donation drive falls short of its goals,  they will be able to falsely report success and skim a little for themselves. They all claim to be god fearing people is what make this so disgusting.

  7. Diogenes says:

    It amazes me that a qualified opinion is being presented as a positive outcome – for example  Miller " two out of more than 40 have managed to get it right", Moxam "It means the civil servants in those two entities, the Ministry of Community Affairs and the Portfolio of the Civil Service are doing their jobs properly and demonstrating improved accountability, which can be congratulated,”. 

    Let's be clear.  A qualified opinion is a scandal, and in the private sector serious questions would be asked.  It means that at least part of the financial statements either does not represent a true and fair view, or that the auditor was unable to satisfy himself as to the accuracy of part of the statements, and in either event the amounts involved are material and cannot be ignored.     

    I guess this is progress in that with a qualified opinion at least you know by how much the accounts may be wrong, but to brag about it as the government has done, or even to say its "right" or demonstrates "accountability" is complete nonsense.  Would we be happy if all 42 got qualified opinions?  No – because the accounts would still be WRONG! That’s not doing their job, and its not accountability.  It's a pathetic attempt to deflect attention from the fact that 40 entities didn’t even manage to rise to that crappy level.  Are we seriously going to say that because prior performance was so completely and utterly crap that we will now accept even materially wrong numbers as not only acceptable but worthy of praise?   

     

    • Anonymous says:

      Read the article again. Those two ministries got UNQUALIFIED opinions hence the statements by the President of Chamber of COmmerce and Mr. Miller. While I agree that certainly there is no need to throw a parade for 2 Ministries getting unqualified opinions for the first time in about 10 years, it is a positive step and people need to recognize that and stop whining. If they had said nothing and finally in say the next 5 years they announced that ALL ministries had finally achieve unqualified opinions the publice would have been in an uproar and just as skeptical. Can't please everyone. If you say nothing, they are hiding something, if they say something they are over rejoicing.

      • Diogenes says:

        Perhaps YOU should read the article again, or you simply do not understand the difference between different audit opinions.  It states that two ministries managed to avoid a disclaimer or an adverse opinion.  Thats not the same as getting an unqualified opinion.  In fact, the Ministry of Tourism got a QUALIFIED opinion, not the UNQUALIFIED opinion you say.  Which ever way you want to dress it up, may be an advance on being completely unauditable or completely misleading, but is still an opinion that says the accounts are materially incorrect – hardly something to be proud of.  Hey, I was DUI, but I was just a little bit over the limit, whereas last time I was massively wasted.  Positive step my ass.  Still a complete failure to carry out basic accountability for other peoples money more like.   

        • Fred the Piemaker says:

           “In those 19 years I could probably count on my fingers and toes the number of public sector entities that I had audited which had any form of qualification,” he said. “I had personally never been involved in any audit that had issued an adverse opinion or a disclaimer of opinion."  A Swarbrick, AG.  Nuff said. 

  8. anonymous says:

    Until the day we have a public sector, "including our Governors" that is willing to wipe out corruption which quite obvious with-in certain sectors, there will continue to be unqualified financial accounts due to a lack of accountability for the waste and misuse we have seen in the last decade. 

    PS To CNS: Is it "un-auditable".  Or is it "non-auditable"?  Can't seem to find a definitive answer.

    • Anonymous says:

      12.32- It would appear to be "inaudible"- that is, the response to the whole issue.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Mr.Moxam and Mr.Miller for saying what many chamber members and public think.

  10. Anonymous says:

    NO one of the "powers that be" should praise themselves or their colleagues as long as the audits of most public entities remain qualified NOR, especially, as long as there is no accountability for $1 billion dollars of waste, theft or otherwise! The Premier is just trying to claim unrealistic progress of the past few months for political purposes. He tries to deflect the focus from the fact that the substandard (and perhaps illegal in some cases) fiscal practices clearly includes his party's last term also!! He was directly responsible for the horrible waste related to the construction of the new high schools. Has he forgotten that?? Hopefull we all haven't!!

    Nonetheless, any genuine improvements are welcomed but, alas, our complacent people seem to satisfy with the political spin that financial miracles have been achieved in a matter of months and seem to be willing to ignore the fact that $1 billion of our money remains unaccounted for!

    Makes me embarrassed to be Caymanian. Sadly though, most non-Caymanians stereotypically and unfairly paint us all with the same brush.

    Bet Premier's or Cabinet's only substantial response will be to criticize the Chamber of Commerce and Ezzard – if they respond at all!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    so sad only ppm would congratulate itself over doing its job considering 95% of accounts are missing qualifed or worse and then try to spin it as an achievement. Alden and Marco look $tupid and desperate yet are too pompous to realise the public are not impre$$ed