The Prime Minister spoke this weekend on the status of the country and included a detailed outline on the projects in the pipeline slated to generate much needed income and growth within our economy.
Although this news does bring some joy and should be seen as a good news story, there is also the sobering reality that very little has been done to address a few very serious issues; including placing focus on addressing weak or improper controls to manage wastage.
Most persons may have read the recent article concerning the QEH money probe. In summary, there was $7.1 million that cannot be explained in terms of where it has gone, what it has purchased or to whom it was paid. This was further compounded by a gap of $13.1 million between an actual stock count and a matching book value of inventory that must be written off, totaling approximately $20.2 million of taxpayer’s funds which cannot be accounted for.
What is even more unfortunate is the reaction of the average Barbadian, ranging from outrage to acceptance that nothing will be done to recover these funds or to hold the persons responsible for this loss accountable.
The unfortunate truth is that this has been the reality concerning government funds for too long. We have accepted as normal significant funds disappearing, weak controls to prevent these instances and little to no accountability in bringing those responsible for these losses to justice. When a person has been identified, we cringe knowing that there will be a costly probe attached to this investigation that seldom results in recouping the missing funds, but instead, has added to the financial burden of the tax payer.
This way of doing things is long overdue for a genuine change. What is the point of taxing citizens, cutting subsidies, debt restructuring, retrenchments, or identifying and mobilizing new projects and growth strategies if we do not create processes which minimize or eliminate significant leakages to the tune of millions of dollars?
Sadly, the 20.2 million lost by the QEH represents only what has been discovered in one government entity. There is a strong possibility that a probe into similar large government entities could yield similar results. If out of every ten government agencies, even one has a similar finding, we can easily see the high losses that our country would incur by not addressing this issue.
The opportunity cost from not addressing these issues is high and has a social impact that is felt by many Barbadians.
It is felt by the family whose main bread winner was recently retrenched.
It is felt by the single mother whose minimum wage job scarcely helps her to afford food for her children or books for their educational needs.
It is felt by the homeowner whose mortgage continues to squeeze them as they try to simultaneously support loved ones that have fallen on hard times.
It is felt by communities that have not had their garbage collected in weeks.
It is felt by communities that have had to readjust their lives around water rationing.
It is felt by commuters that wait long hours to catch a bus and are then too exhausted to invest in quality time with their families.
It is felt by pensioners that have had their retirement age adjusted upwards, and those to come that may potentially see a further increase in the age if this decision becomes the best solution to maintain NIS funds.
It is felt by hospital staff that are under pressure to work with scarce resources, endure long hours and face patients that are frustrated with the length of time it takes for them to be seen if their case is not an emergency, but they lack the funds for private care.
It is felt by Barbadians that once enjoyed a certain quality of life, that could partake in the social activities and enjoy the fruits of their labour but must now carefully account for every penny to ensure that they do not lose everything they have worked many, many years for.
This is the reality for many Barbadians. As I said earlier, the current plans for growth should bring hope that in a few years, the Barbados economy will start to see growth; however, if we do not take a serious look into managing those funds and preventing unscrupulous behavior, we could likely end right back where we started.
*Krystle Howell, CPA, CIA, COSO, ALMI, ACS, aka Mavis, is an Internal Auditor by profession, avid artist and a lover of dance.