Integrity more than legislation
One of the failings of how matters of integrity are addressed is that efforts to improve integrity are often isolated from other relevant factors.
Generally, these efforts have been centred around legislative initiatives that speak to transparency, accountability, checks and balances and oversight.
Yet, legislative provisions alone are inadequate as their effectiveness is dependent upon the environment in which they operate. In the case of Barbados, this environment relates to bureaucratic and procedural practices in the public sector. The implications these factors have for integrity are most evident in the case of the Office of the Auditor General.
The Auditor General’s Office is central to the promotion of integrity, yet its robustness can be hamstrung by various considerations.
One such consideration is whether the Auditor’s General Office has the adequate staff that is necessary to effectively fulfil its mandate.
Numerous Auditor General reports have raised staffing issues as the budget allocated by Parliament leaves the office understaffed. Conceivably, staffing concerns are even more acute, given the increased role of the Auditor General since the passing of the Financial Management And Audit Act.
Another concern is whether sufficient funding exists to provide training for current and future staff if required.
Rules and regulations that govern the public sector which impact on the Office of the Auditor General are also worthwhile considerations.
Since the Office is categorised as a public entity, the hiring procedures are governed by the Public Service Act and the Public Service Commission Regulations.
These provisions require that staffing and vacancies in public entities must be filled through the Personnel Administration Division. Although this division seeks to promote integrity in the hiring through a meritocratic process, questions of efficiency can be raised.
The hiring in central government can be a lengthy process that can drag on for months. Therefore, considerations must be given at to how this hiring process can be expedited. Prior to the Public Service Act 2007,
the Office of the Auditor General controlled its hiring requirements. Conceivably, this provided a more seamless and faster process than what is currently stipulated by law.
Given the substantial role this Office plays in promoting integrity, regaining this seamless hiring process ought to be prioritised if its responsibilities are to be effectively executed. Therefore, guaranteeing the independence and the flexibility with regards to hiring may require a reclassification of the Office from a public entity to a statutory body.
Other statutory bodies such as the Financial Services Commission are permitted to hire staff that they consider necessary to execute their affairs. As such, becoming a statutory body would allow the Auditor General’s Office to hire the necessary staff in a more effective manner.
Within the region, we have seen operational considerations prioritised to improve integrity. This is seen in Jamaica, where integrity regimes were consolidated to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Therefore, to ensure that the Office of the Auditor General is not hindered by the public sector’s bureaucratic environment, considerations ought to be given to how efficiency can be improved.
Auditor General Leigh Trotman. (FP)