AG report aims to improve accountability

| 18/07/2008

George Town (CNS): The latest report by the Auditor
General’s office, “The State of Financial Accountability Reporting in
Government”, has been published to help focus attention and resolve
the problem rather than point fingers, the office has said.

“This is not just a scorecard. It is a thoughtful report about how
things can be improved,” said Auditor General Dan Duguay. The report
details why the 37 government ministries and departments have failed
to submit adequate financial reports, but it also provides
recommendations, and he says it is not just down to the Financial
Secretary’s office to resolve the problem.

“This is everyone’s problem and we all could do more and we need
everyone to work on this,” he said. “The report has been designed to
give people the information so they can better understand what the
problems are, where things are going wrong and how to begin resolving
them.”

He noted that his own office, the civil servants in the relevant
departments, the Financial Secretary’s office and Members of the
Legislative Assembly have a role to play in improving public
accountability, and that that until accountability improved the new
system under the Public Management Finance Law could not work
properly. Public servants were competent in justifying to the LA their
cases for receiving funding but not so good at accounting for the
money once they got it, he remarked, adding that members needed to
push for more accountability. Once they had voted to give funds, they
needed to ask where that money was being spent.

“This auditwill help them press for more accountability because they
will be able to see in detail the situation in each ministry, why it
has reached this point and what can be done,” he said. “Without this
type of information it is hard to press for any kind of real
accountability or manage government spending. It is down to a simple
matter of MLAs asking ‘how did you spend the money?’ and government
departments being able to answer the question.”

Duguay described the report as a snapshot but an important one, which
revealed information to the wider public in which they had an
interest, and they had a right to know how government spends public
money.  Although not wanting to give exact details of the worst
offending ministries in terms of accounting problems, he said that the
important thing was to look toward improvement for the future.

“When we do the report again next year we want to be able to show how
departments have tackled the issues and to say they are doing much
better,” he said.

The HSA, however, was quick to say it was doing much better already in
a statement issued by the Acting Chief Executive Officer denying
accusation’s in Cayman Net News that it was one of the worst
offenders in the accounting delay. Lizzette Yearwood said the
department was not delinquent or in breach of accountability
guidelines in its annual financial reports. She said that the AG was
in receipt of financial statements from the last two fiscal years of
2005/06 and 2006/07.

The AG acknowledged that the HSA was certainly improving but said the
2003 accounts were still in question as there was not enough
information. There were no financial statements at all for 2004/05 and
he was not sure there ever would be. Duguay also said that, while he
was very pleased to have received the last two year’s statements,
there were still questions surrounding fiscal issues at the HSA.
However, he also wanted to give credit where it was due.

 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Since the HSA became an authority there were accounting
problems, and while there are still some questions and missing
accounts, the Authority is certainly making a serious effort to
improve the situation and we are very happy to work with them to help
address the problems.”

In another response to the report, Rolston Anglin, Opposition MLA for
West Bay, said urgent action was needed. “This is an issue that has
been consistently presented to the government and to date they have
shown no interest in providing the financial accountability that is
required to the people of the Cayman Islands, and we should expect
more from them in resolving this situation,” said Anglin, who noted
that the PPM had stated in its 2005 manifesto that party could be
trusted to comply with the Public Management Finance Law. 

“This is nothing short of irresponsible. We all understand that the
various bodies have had some difficulties in getting their accounts in
order. But how can the government, having made such promises as they
did in their 2005 manifesto, simply let the situation get worse? 1.5
billion in accounts is a lot to explain. The people of the Cayman
Islands deserve an explanation.”  

Although the return of accounts is a civil service matter, Anglin said
the direct responsibility of the PPM Administration in dealing with
the issue could not be dismissed by saying it is just a public
officer’s job.

“In 2005 when the PPM promised better fiscal management and
accountability, we have to assume that they had a plan for how to
ensure things like this do not occur. And when a crisis like this
occurs, we should look to them for accountability and a full
explanation,” he added.

 

 

 

 

 

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