Auditor:Progress too slow

| 19/11/2014

(CNS):The day before government patted itself on the back over what it claimed were advances in the production of public accounts last week, the auditor general pointed out that the Cayman government still had a long way to go to address its “dismal” past failures and that progress was too slow as government should have been much further ahead by now in addressing the fundamental problem. In a press briefing hosted by Premier Alden McLaughlin on 12 Nov he lauded the fact that things were improving. However, on 11 Nov Alastair Swarbrick, the government auditor, had said that while things were beginning to move in the right direction from a situation he had described as “scandalous”, there is still an awful lot to be done.

Since the press briefing on 12 November, when government said the deputy governor had received an email from the Office of the Auditor General congratulating him on the public finance submissions for this year, CNS has been asking for comment on the government’s position from the auditor. But the office confirmed Monday that until the audits are finished, Swarbrick will not be making further comment over and above those made on 11 November at government’s professional development week — the day before the press briefing.

In his speech to civil servants that day, Alastair Swarbrick spelled out the appalling state of government’s accounts. And while government was singing its own praises, Swarbrick warned about the dangers of losing momentum.

“I have found the pace of change frustratingly slow," he said. "If you had asked me four years ago what I would have hoped for by this time, it would be that we were quite a bit further on. In the four years I haveseen some spurts of activity and progress, only to be followed by a loss of momentum.”

In an address that highlighted the still very poor state of affairs, Swarbrick said that much more still needed to be done.

“The momentum needs to build on the achievements so far. No doubt some changes to the PMFL (Public Management and Finance Law) will help but it should not be an excuse for not achieving accountability,” he said.

Reflecting on how bad things were, he said that when he arrived here in July 2010, if he had known the true extent of the problem, he wondered if he would have taken the job at all.

“Six years after the introduction of the PMFL the position was pretty bleak, and to all intents and purposes there was absolutely no accountability for the generation and use of public resources. Just as concerning, there didn’t seem to be a plan in place to rectify the situation,” he stated. “We can examine the reasons why this position was reached but at the end of the day, no matter how you look at it, I have to say that from my perspective it was pretty scandalous and it is clear that it is a causal factor in undermining public trust in government.”

Swarbrick said that what he found when he arrived in the Cayman Islands was diametrically opposed to anything he had seen in his 19 years of public sector auditing experience at that time. 

“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. Also it was very rare that audited financials were not completed and tabled in line with statutory requirements,” Swarbrick explained.

He said he had come across problems with financial management and reporting, issues of waste or misuse of public funds. However, he emphasised that the fundamental principle of accountability through the presentation of an annual report, including the financial statements, was a serious requirement.

“Where there were failures in financial management and reporting, there were consequences,” he added. But this is the issue that has raised so much concern in Cayman. Despite ten years of failure by government to report back to the public how it spent the tax payers’ money, no one has been held responsible or accountable and no heads have rolled.

Swarbrick said that things were improving, given how bad they were, but the idea that he had been praising government, as implied by the premier, in an email to the deputy governor, appeared to be at odds with what Swarbrick said.

“I am hopeful that year ending 30 June 2014 may be the first year that we don’t have any adverse opinions or disclaimers on entity financials, although I must attach a significant health warning to that statement as some significant work is still required to get the full picture,” he said. “We continue to find governance and internal control issues that impact significantly on the effective stewardship of public resources.”

He said that government was still a long way off from delivering a picture to the people who pay for the public services how revenues government has generated from them has been used.

“They have no choice in paying the fees, charges, duties, taxes which fund government and the public services, unlike investors in the private sector, so as public servants our professional, ethical and fiduciary duties to safeguard public resources and assets, and report how those resources have been generated and used is significant, and in my opinion greater than that for private sector entities,” Swarbrick stated.

“Public trust in government finances is still a way off, impacting on the credibility of government overall,” he warned.

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Category: Politics

Comments (27)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Appears to me that he Premier and DG simply took the positive line with the press. They indicated the facts – only 2 ministries had done a good job. Maybe they are simply working on praising those folks in the hope that the others will follow suit. Sometime a carrot may work better than a stick.

  2. Knot S Smart says:

    Some people dont really care – as long as they get that turtle in the photo stewed for tomorrow's dinner…

  3. CayStar says:

    Typical Caymanian turtle!  No wonder one is on our coat-of-arms!  With progress we take our sweet time in the race, but somehow we always win it over the rabbits ??? 

  4. Anonymous says:

    This would never have happened under Mr Vassel/Sir Johnson's watch. It his successors (who were all Mac's political appointees) who should be blamed for this mess. However with typical absence of accountability in Cayman one of these successors remains as FS and the other, again in a political appointment, has been made Chair of CIMA.

    • jonas dwyer says:

      Hello the problem stems from both UDP and PPM administrations. The PPM introduced an accounting system used in New Zealand bobo. They didn't research it properly, they hired accountants and hr for each bathroom and ergo the mess that is today. The UDP did appoint Jefferson is true but fund!entally the system is the root cause of the issue coupled with the fact that no one has been fired by either government for the mess that they continue to create.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would like to hear what Councillor for finance McTaggart has to say.  He is a trusted and experinced auditor and he is not a member of PPM or UDP so his voice would be a welcome addition to the narrative.

    • Anonymous says:

      Looking backwards is not going to help, we need to look forward as to who is capable of sorting this out…

  5. Anonymous says:

    What a well-matched pair of media mongers – Alden and Franz.

    They'll do anything and everything to try to make themselves look good.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hmmmm, it seems that a turtle is a fitting national symbol.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The problem is the management and the political interference.

    The civil cervants on the floor just do as they are told otherwise they get fired and replaced by friends of management.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The Premier and the Deputy Governor should be ashamed!

    But this is what they're good at….praising self and eachother for mediocre performance.

    Thank you Auditor General for telling it like it is.

    Just think for a minute….we like to be recognised as a global leading financial centre – yet ten years and little to no progress on the accounting of a small island nation. All while cronies are promoted higher and higher….to their level of incompetence.

    And the response from the former premier is; "dey tryin mek me look bad", and the current premier; premature celebrations.

     

    • Anonymous says:

      The DG should be fired what a POS Just clean house get rid of any employee that has been in charge for more than 10 years

  9. Anonymous says:

    Oh bwoy. Such a shame. 

  10. Anonymous says:

    The Cayman Islands Government, past and present are a complete waste of space. Why are they dragging their feet so much?

    Because when all is said, shit is going to hit the fan.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This dreadful state of affairs, so long swept under the carpet, must be addressed quickly.  Sadly though and despite the AG's best efforts to drag this country's civil servants up to the lowest acceptable state they could manage with the 'talent' available, it is not going to happen anytime soon.  Expect to read much of the same shambolic accounting in the following years.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Since we've already wasted $1b, let's spend a little bit more to have some forensic accountants go over the bank accounts and "records" and find out where all the money has been going. Then we can hold some people accountable and start to move on.

    • B. Hurlstone says:

      What???  Hold people accountable?  In the Caymans?  Dream on, Anonymous 9:11.  We don't even hold our highest leaders aountable, let alone all the friends and relatives on down the line!

    • Anonymous says:

      …"records"…?????

      The records

      a) do not exist

      b) have been shredded

      c) all filed under "T" for "The…." or "G" for "Landfill"

      d) were never submitted

      The forensic accountants would be wasting their time.

  13. Anonymous says:

    There are some people that need to be fired for cause, it's as simple as that.  Until that happens, ACC should be investigating why that isn't happening.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Another PR train wreck for the Regressives

    • Anonymous says:

      And the PPM, and the CS and every Caymanian for not questioning. 

      You've made your bed, get in and shut up (which is what you ahve been doing)

      Or get out of it a make it!

      But  that won't happen. 

  15. Anonymous says:

    Straight from the horse mouth no politics

  16. Anonymous says:

    Did Alden, Franz and Marco lie to the country in their rushed press conference and quest for praise?

    It looks so after this story and their failure to give the public the full picture of what the AG told them in his email.

    • Anonymous says:

      Would it be inappropriate for Alden and Franz to give each other awards (of some discription)?

      I like the feel good factor of superfulious awards ……….. they take our minds off the real issues!