SHANTAL MUNROE-KNIGHT: Who will be held to account?
ONCE AGAIN the Auditor General’s report has highlighted that there are some significant oversight gaps and questionable practices throughout the public service.
While the issues related to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) have been well publicised, there are other areas which are cause for concern.
For instance, the report highlighted that Government has a significant pension liability of 4.3 billion dollars which was not reported in Government’s financial statements. This alone is an issue of national concern and one for debate given its implications. I wonder if it was not highlighted in the Auditor General’s report, where else would the public have got the information.
There is also the issue of the overpaid returns by taxpayers. Barbadians, the honest persons that we are, have apparently returned $747 908.98 in overpaid returns to the Inland Revenue department. Interestingly, the 2013 Auditor Report also highlighted a similar situation where taxpayers returned a total of $976 458.91 in refunds that were overpaid during the financial year 2012- 2013, which apparently was 300 per cent more than the amount reported as returned by taxpayers in the previous audit report.
While I am quite honestly surprised that we have so many honest Bajans in the first place, I could just imagine how much money has actually not been returned. The Ministry of Transport and Works reportedly has an outstanding audit issue of overpayment to suppliers totalling $1.3 million and there is also apparently no oversight for the more than $20 million in tourism sector waivers. All of this is in the Auditor’s General report.
I am confused and baffled that year after year the Auditor General has to report on the same instances of poor management over and over again. While I completely appreciate and understand the complexity of having to deal with large budgets and systems for recording that might be imperfect, what is the point at which we determine that we need to do better.
As a citizen I take great offence at being asked to carry such a heavy responsibility for the current financial situation but at the same time the current rate of revenue loss through inefficient and weak Government systems is so high. What I would like the Auditor General’s report to do is to provide a tally of the total revenue foregone because of the inefficiencies and questionable practices in the public service. I want to know how much is it actually costing us. It is like spinning top in mud or trying to collect water through a sieve. I remember the public sector being chastised by Government ministers who thought that they should give the public a lecture on our perceived spending habits and yet they are failing to get their own house in order.
I have been on record as saying that our main problem is a process and management problem. You can raise taxes on everything except water and air, you can ask departments to cut their budgets and stop buying so much ballpoint pens, but it would make no difference if the systems to manage the process are weak.
More important is the question of who is to be held accountable. Who is to end up either in jail or unemployed? I have monitored the reports of the Auditor General over some years and there are some repeat offenders and there are some cases which suggest a gross deficit in proper management. Where is the accountability for the good administration of public funds? Why are we being asked to accept this level of management at this stage.
How do we correct and reverse this trend? This cannot be about internal tinkering and fixes. The public ought to know how Government will move to address the situation so that it results in a systemic shift in the way we do business.
Am I asking too much?