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I CAN CERTAINLY relate to Sir Frank Alleyne’s frustration that successive administrations seem to have ignored the financial irregularities identified in our Auditor General reports over the years. I can only imagine how disenchanted our Auditor General Leigh Trotman and his staff must be, given their yeomen efforts to unearth financial irregularities in our public accounts that have yielded little more than embarrassment for alleged perpetrators.
Where Sir Frank and I differ is that I believe the Auditor General’s Department should be dissolved and replaced with a much more powerful independent agency that has adequate staff.
Barbados is extremely fortunate to have an Auditor General like Trotman and his staff who, as far as I am aware, have never wavered in their duty to inform us about suspected irregularities no matter the Government in power.
I do agree that our Auditor General’s Department needs to be adequately staffed and independent, but it also needs to be insulated from intentional or inadvertent subversion and it must also have the power to refer suspected cases of fraudulent activity directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), if the perception of corruption is to be curtailed.
At the moment our Financial Management & Audit Act /Part IV/ 40.(2) only provides that where it appears to the Auditor General that any irregularities have occurred . . . . The Auditor General shall immediately bring the matter to the notice of the accounting officer and, where the case is serious, report the circumstances to the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs.
According to an OAS Final Report on Belize in 2014 (Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption), the committee of experts reiterated the need to strengthen the watchdog agencies.
Of particular note, they suggested that the budget allocations of watchdog agencies like the Auditor General’s Department should not fall under the control of the Minister of Finance, given the real possibility of him being accused of leveraging his authority to subvert the independence, autonomy, integrity and impartiality of these agencies.
Additionally, they argued that consideration should be given to restructuring the respective legislation to match the one in Jamaica, where the budget of the Contractor General is determined by the Upper and Lower Houses of Assembly.
Before we begin the work of creating an office of Contractor General as proposed by Sir Frank, perhaps it would be simpler at this juncture to amend our Financial Management & Audit Act to give the teeth and the insulation that our current Auditor General clearly lacks.
I look forward to the day when our Auditor General has the power to take suspected cases of fraudulent activity directly to the DPP for prosecution. I look forward to the day when our Auditor General has all of the resources, human and technological, that he needs to effectively audit all of our public accounts.
I look forward to the day when our Auditor General’s reports are no longer bursting with statements of concern or suspicions about fraudulent transactions in the public sector. I look forward to the day when the perception of corruption in our public sector is nowhere near what obtains today.
All we need to do is to strengthen and insulate our Auditor General’s Department. This is one of our low-hanging fruits.
– SEAN ST CLAIR FIELDS