Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush is calling on Governor Stuart Jack to intervene to resolve the crisis with late government accounts.
Mr. Bush was responding to last week’s special Auditor General’s report, which said government entities were so far behind schedule in submitting their accounts for auditing that legislators had effectively lost control of the public purse.
‘It is absolutely ridiculous that a government that talks so much about openness, transparency and accountability haven’t published [annual reports] in four years,’ Mr. Bush told the Compass.
‘What has to happen now is that the Governor has to get on board.
‘How do you say you have good governance – and this is where the Governor must be concerned – when you do not have proper accountability as far as your expenditure is concerned?’
‘It is most essential – most important to the country – that we have accounts for those years. I think the Governor needs to step in,’ Mr. Bush said.
Auditor General Dan Duguay’s explosive 32-page report, released Thursday, variously described the situation as deplorable, a national problem and a crisis and said there was at least $1.5 billion of operating expenditure that should have been accounted for that has not been reported to the Legislative Assembly.
As the fallout and finger pointing from the report continued, Public Accounts Committee members said Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson and Chief Secretary George McCarthy will be among witnesses brought before a special week-long PAC hearing in September to explain the situation.
Chief financial officers and chief officers from major government ministries and portfolio’s will also be brought before the hearing to explain why they are years behind in submitting financial records for auditing.
‘We hope that they understand when they come there that they are going to have to tell us why … they haven’t gotten [financial records] up to date,’ said PAC Chairman and government backbencher Osbourne Bodden.
‘The fact that we are bringing them into a public forum where they have to put on record what they are doing and what their plans are; we are hoping that will help.’
While Mr. Bush believes the ruling People Progressive Movement government must accept ultimate responsibility for the situation, the report noted that CFO’s had previously ignored deadlines laid down by Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and by Mr. Jefferson.
‘Each of these deadlines stated it was crucial to get the financial statements out on time and that there would be no extensions. Each of these times CFO’s agreed to produce accurate statements. Each of these times my office prepared for the deluge of financial statements. And finally, each of these deadlines were missed,’ Mr. Duguay’s report stated.
Even Mr. Tibbetts’ November 2007 directive to CFO’s to devote all available resources to ensuring all late financial statements were submitted to the Audit Office by the end of the year was ignored, the report said.
‘Many deadlines relating to the final submission of financial statements have been made during the last two and a half years. But all of them have been missed and there appears to have been little or no consequence to this lack of accountability,’ the report stated.
Mr. Bodden said the contents of Mr. Duguay’s report came as no surprise to him. ‘The fact is, what he has in there is basically the truth.’
While Mr. Bodden hopes the PAC hearings pave the way for bringing all government accounting up to date within the year, Mr. Bush has little faith that the public will see the Government’s financial statements before the May 2009 election.
‘I think they are going to hide them until after the next election and that is very worrisome for the opposition party.’ If his United Democratic Party triumphs at next year’s poll, he pledged to make up-to-date accounts a priority.
Noting that it was his government that introduced the law that mandates the auditing of all government accounts, Mr. Bush said: ‘All it requires is adhering to the law and they are not adhering to the law.’
Mr. Bodden said: ‘Mr. Bush is going to say what any opposition would say. They will be happy to make a meal of this. But the truth is that this has been going on for a long, long time, but with the new system (of accounting), it is even more exaggerated.’
Mr. Duguay said the response from legislators and members of the civil service had been encouraging. ‘There has been an immediate response, so that’s a good thing,’ he said. ‘Everyone is asking ‘what can we do to fix this problem’.’