Auditor defends disclosure

| 24/10/2011

(CNS): The process by which the auditor general releases his reports to the people came under attack from the premier and the three government members of the Public Accounts Committee on Friday but Alistair Swarbrick defended the need to disclose his reports as soon as possible. This is not the first time that government members have said the reports should remain under wraps until the PAC has sat and some members of the committee have publicly declared their support to have the reports remain confidential until witnesses have been called and PAC submits its own view of the auditor’s work. This time the call came during the PAC witness hearing in connection with a recent report using the Cohen Loan as a case study.

Both McKeeva Bush and Peter Young refuted several elements of the report as they answered questions, mostly from the government members, which drove the three UDP backbenchers who make up the majority of the committee to conclude that the reports should no longer be released to the public before PAC has had its say.

Bush and Young appeared as witnesses before the PAC in connection with an auditor general’s report in which theCohen loan was presented as a case study in Swarbrick’s assessment of the problems relating to government’s management of the procurement process. Cohen and Co was the company which the premier had opted to do business with for government’s $155 million loan last year, controversially circumventing the tendering process. The deal was cancelled, however, as the promised savings never materialized but not before the public purse had suffered a loss of around $450,000.

In the wake of calls not to allow reports such as this in the public domain until after the PAC had completed its research, the auditor general said that in the interest of public transparency the reports from his office should be in the public domain at the earliest opportunity once they were published. He pointed out that the reports were not simply released without any consultation as they were cleared by all the stakeholders for comment.

As he denied any wrongdoing on his part in the Cohen deal, Bush, however, criticised the auditor general for the language he had used in his reports about procurement, saying he did not appreciate the phraseology and when placed in the public domain the media were placing a negative spin on the findings. He said the auditor general’s reports should not be placed in the public domain until those being criticised were given a chance to put their side.

“It is unfair for people to get smeared before they can defend themselves,” the premier said as he suggested that the only people who would support the reports being released before the PAC had an opportunity to scrutinize them were scandalmongers and people who were suggesting that “something nefarious” was going on.

Peter Young also refuted parts of the report, saying he was never the premier’s advisor during the process and had never done any analysis of the proposals, as the UDP party treasurer sought to distance himself from the proposal and the premier’s controversial decision to bypass the tendering.

Young said that after he had offered to get Cohen involved and got the agreement of the premier to approach them, he had forwarded the firm’s proposal to the financial secretary then had no further dealings with the matter. He told the committee that he was very familiar with Cohen and had done business with them before. Young told the committee that he was friendly with their principals but he had not received any fee or monetary gain as a result of the introduction. He said he took exception to being named in the report as an advisor or that he had undertaken any analysis in connection with the proposal as this was not true.

The three government members, who picked up on the denials made by the witnesses and took aim at the auditor general (who stood by the content of his reports) and seized the moment to again suggest that the process of release of all his office’s reports should be re-examined and the public circulation of them delayed until witnesses got a chance to give their side of the story.

Dwayne Seymour said the “incorrect and inefficient reports” should not be going into the public domain as every time they came to PAC the members heard “a different spin” on them. The sentiment of his comments were echoed by Cline Glidden and Ellio Solomon, despite the latter’s outrage in the past, when he was a radio talk show host and before the policy was changed, that the auditor’s reports had been kept out of public sight until after the PAC had met.

Swarbrick told the committee members that he supported openness and transparency and it would be a retrograde step to withhold his reports. He said he would not support any move to see the reports held back from the public. The auditor general said it was a key aspect of good governance and democracy that the independent audit office control the publication of its own reports and that they were cleared with the people involved for factual accuracy.

PAC chair Moses Kirkconnell said that the issue had been discussed previously but did not state during the hearing whether he supported returning to the old policy of keeping the reports secret until PAC had called witnesses. Under the current policy the reports are released to the public a few days after each member of the Legislative Assembly has received a copy.

Kirkconnell recently told CNS that he did not think it would be useful to withhold the reports as the timeliness of the release of the auditor’s work to the public was important. However, he said he hoped that the PAC would be able to meet, call witnesses and deal with the reports as quickly as possible.

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  1. Anon says:

    Peter and Mac. This calls for a repost. Well done writer.

    The PAC members are a total bunch of incompetents. They did not ask Mckeeva Bush any of the real questions that should have been asked ! Bunch of sissies that are too soft to deal with Mac. Here are but a few of the hard questions that should have been asked :

    1. What made McKeeva pick the phone to call Cohen and Co when he was in a New York Hotel room and ask them to make a proposal on Government financing ? (McKeeva said on public radio that he got the phone number out of the phone book in New York and that he didn't know anything about them before but he decided to call them) Really McKeeva??

    2. How does McKeeva explain his statement that Peter Young didn't advise him on this deal when Peter Young got on Rooster Talk Show one morning and spoke for over 45 minutes on why this was such a great deal for government and that the Government was right to pursue it and that he had in fact discussed the matter with the Premier ?

    3. Why didn't McKeeva approach the two local banks that were recommended and that eventually ended up providing the financing to ask them to consider resubmitting their proposal instead of going to Cohen and Company, a company which he claims he had never heard of before and knew nothing about ?

    4. Does McKeeva understand the conflict of interest in Peter Young being involved in this deal and does he understand the provisions of the Anti Corruption Law ?

    Come on PAC members……..were you all sleeping ? Especially you Kurt, because you know you could have torn McKeeva to pieces over this issue !!!!

    • Your answer says:

      People who live in glass houses …… know the rest…..!!!!


      • Anonymous says:

        Shouldn't insist on costing the country $450,000.00 in absurd committment fees…shouldn't be giving away millions of government's money to 'his' church…shouldn't be wasting hundreds of thousands of his 'broke' country's dollars globe trotting with his pals… 

  2. truth says:

    Accountabiliy  to the people is the mark of True Democracy.  Hence the fight to shut it down in Grand Cayman.

  3. Anonymous says:

    those aren't 'different spins' the members were hearing.  They're different schemes.

  4. The Philosopher says:

    At the next sitting of the PAC committee I'll be setting up a stand in front of the Legislative Assembly selling adult diapers. So anyone who is feeling a bit nervous about appearing in front of the PAC committee rather than embarrass yourself, drop by and see me prior to meeting with the PAC and the AG! I  promise I'll beat any price  on Island. These units have been slightly used and properly broken in so they are quite comfortable. So if you are feeling a bit nervous please stop by  on your  way in.

  5. Dreadlock Holmes says:

    Excuse me gentlemen, but the PAC has hardly ever had full attendance.  That is one of the reasons why Mr. Miller, the former head of the PAC resigned.  This could lead to a scenario whereby if any member of PAC (or someone who is a member of the Premier's cabal) suspected criticism in an AG's report they would purposely not be present to "defend" themselves or their messiah.  And after taking advantage of this still able to squeal publicly that the report wasn't vetted properly.

    Nice try.

  6. Anonymous says:

    MLA Seymour criticises the AG's reportsas incorrect and inefficient, yet the AG stands by them. Hmmm, I wonder who everyone believes; Mr Seymour or a professionally qualified objective forensic auditor appointed with glowing references & with no axe to grind?


    • Anonymous says:

      It is quite evident that lame MLA Seymour couldn't beat himself out of a whet paper bag, so would any sensible person expect him to say much more than was said.  It is a shame to see what you have to call representatives.  They are just cowboys, throwing a rope and missing at every throw.  It baffles me, how the BT cowboys are just spinning their wheels and has not and cannot get a grip.  They have let their gaurd down and followed the leader over the edge.  When are you going to see the forest and not just the trees.

      Our small dot needs more work to be done, than just paying the followers to say yes to the Premier.  We need representation, intelligent people with foresight, sense of direction and last but not least integrity and honesty.  Do not follow the leader, leader, leader.

  7. Anonymous says:

    They were elected by the people of this country.  They are spending the country's money and the people of this country deserve the right to immediately know how it is spent.  It would be like companies who raise money from investors telling their investors to shut up, as they have no right to know how the company has spent the money and performed financially.

    What we now need is for those who are blatantly breaching the rules and regulations to be penalised for doing so, because as long as they can do so and get away with it, they will continue to do as they please.

    Thank God we are still under the UK.  I cannot see the Governor allowing any regression to the DARK ages.


    Thanks AG.  Keep those reports coming.  It will expose wrong, even if it is still occurring.  We'll change things in 2013.  If you ain't prepared to abide by the rules, then don't run in the next election.

  8. Dan Duguay says:

    It is hard to believe that this type of sentiment is still being expressed by some Caymanian politicians. When I took the job as AG, I was astounded to find that reports could not be issued until after PAC had met to discuss them. Not surprisingly, I also found that PAC hardly ever met to review reports and as a result valid AG reports were not in the public domain forseveral years (remember the report on CUC Mr. Soloman?)

    My biggest accomplishments over my tenure was the quick release of AG reports and the public openess of PAC meetings. Reports on vital interests are now available to the Caymanian public on a quick basis. If we go back to the old system, wouldt the UDP members of the PAC (which is the majority) have allowed the report to be reviewed on a timely basis?

    Politicians must not be allowed to control the AG through the issuance (or non-issuance) of his report.

    I did research on this very issue before the rules regarding disclosure of AG reports were changed 5 years ago. Within the Caribbean, all contries allowed release of the AG report once it was completed. In fact, I could not find ONE example where the AG report is withheld until after PAC had met and issued its report. Every country I know (and I served on several international committees relating to auditing) allowed the AG to release his or her report without approval from politicians. Any AG I talked to internationally expressed concern with any process that would allow politicians to control the flow of reports from their Office.

    All reports are cleared beforehand. It usually adds months to the process but ensures that everyone affected knows what is in the report. They have the right to make suggestions and in worst case scenario can make a rebuttal.

    I say stand by the current AG and ensure that you continue to hear from him.

    The man known as Cowboy Dan

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Dan thanks for taking the time to explain to uswhat tool place with regard to the reports. We need replace the members of the PAC as soon as possible and send Mr. Bush to obedience classes.

  9. Anonymous says:

    As I see it certain politicians, who in general don't feel obliged to follow the rules, would like to have a new rule that no Auditor General report critical of them can be made public within eleven years of any election at all, for so long as elections are held every 4 years.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Mr. Kirkonnell, " Moses Kirkconnell recently told CNS that he did not think it would be useful to withhold the reports as the timeliness of the release of the auditor’s work to the public was important". and Mr. Swarbrick, "The auditor general said it was a key aspect of good governance and democracy that the independent audit office control the publication of its own reports and that they were cleared with the people involved for factual accuracy". We live in a democratic country and democracy and transparency and good governance is what we are going to have in this country, regardless of WHO says it is wrong. Thank you gentlemen for having the guts to defend what is right in our country. 

  11. Anonymous says:

    It is very clear that the Auditor General REPORTSto the PAC.

    PPM messed this up several years ago because they wanted to get the past AG's reports out in the public to cause political damage while they would purposely produced NO reports in the 4 years. That meant there was no legal way of anyone responding to an irresponsible and attention seeking AG. Thank God this current AG seems intent on just doing his job. I am sure he will do it properly.

    Clearly this situation is not right to have the opposition or other people attacked by the AG's office and have NO ability to respond while their reputations are ruined based on the AG's "personal opinion".

    Nasty, nasty party politics supported by the AG's office 'public document policy'. PPM was clearly wrong for not making one report in their 4 years.  I have to laugh when I hear their PAC Chairman talk about "right and wrong" of this government- how he easily forgets.


    • Anonymous says:

      It is very clear that whatever the PPM may or may not have done years ago has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what is going on our government TODAY. Can we really not just deal with the peoblems we are facing with our government TODAY? Is that really not ENOUGH?

      • Jonah Principlr says:

        The truth will come out 1 day about what ppm

        • Anonymous says:

          Looks like you got your name wrong as well.

        • Anonymous says:

          Sorry you can't even complete a sentence but the PPM would love for the truth to come out about a lot of things including the "supposed deficit" and many other things that the UDP claim happen and can't prove. How nice it must be to forget when you drive on the new roads or visit the new BT civic centre or GOAP or go to the new VL building to licence your car that PPM spent money on things we can see, not on airfares to China, Italy or wherever strikes Mac's fancy or on payments to Cohen to not arrange a loan for us.



    • Anonymous says:

      Funny, the criticisms are being levelled at the current AG by your 'esteemed' leader. He does agree that the current AG is just doing his job. The AG's reports are not mere "personal opinion"; they are the professional opinion of a highly qualified and experienced AG. Now, who should we believe a politician who acknowledges that he "is no financial expert" or a  highly qualified and experienced AG with no apparent axe to grind?