PPM: audit delays not our fault

Leaders of the People’s Progressive Movement Government have sought to distance themselves from blame over late government accounts, saying there is little they can do to make civil servants get the reports done.

‘It’s not a matter over which we have control,’ Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin told a televised press briefing Thursday.

‘This is a very serious issue; there is no question about that. I can promise you that behind closed doors the Government has taken to task everyone that we can, including His Excellency (Governor Stuart Jack), who has ultimate responsibility for the civil service,’ he said.

‘But in a constitutional system which gives the elected government no administrative authority for Ministries; for chief officers and chief financial officers; where the financial secretary is not an elected member and over whom we have no control or authority, it is very difficult, if not nigh on impossible, for the elected government to do more than to push and to shove and to complain … about the lack of performance on the part of civil servants, because that’s what it is,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts acknowledged that the repeated failures of COs and CFOs to meet deadlines for submitting financial records for audits pointed, in part, to systemic problems throughout the civil service.

But he predicted the public uproar over the fiasco would help get the problem sorted out. ‘It’s a matter of where you place your priorities. Now that this flurry is on about it, it’s going to get done … and when it’s all done and over with we’re going to look back and say ‘why the hell didn’t we get this done before’.’

Health Minister Anthony Eden declared the government has nothing to hide, describing the PPM administration as the most transparent he has served in.

But when pressed on why the financial statement of the Cayman Islands National Insurance Company have been gathering dust in his Ministry rather than being submitted to the Legislative Assembly to become public documents, as the Public Management and Finance Law requires, Mr. Eden said he was not sure.

‘These things are now being looked at,’ he said.

‘Many people here in Cayman and I am not the least of which – all of us here – have not been used to the PMFL and what the requirements are under it.

‘It is an extremely, extremely long [process] to deal with everything that is in there. And that’s not an excuse for not having these things done but I do know the process is now under way to deal with this,’ Mr. Eden said.

In his report, Mr. Duguay applauded some statutory authorities and government companies such as CINICO for having their financial statements audited on time, but lamented that the reports are not being tabled in the Legislative Assembly to become public documents, as the law requires. The PMFL gives responsibility for tabling those reports to the relevant government minister – in this case Mr. Eden.

CINICO officers have previously confirmed that their reports have been handed to the Ministry of Health and Human Services, but the reports have never been tabled in the LA.

Previous attempts by the Caymanian Compass to obtain CINICO’s financial statements have been unsuccessful; CINICO officers have referred reporters to the health ministry, while health ministry officials have refused to provide the reports or discuss why they had not been tabled.

Ministers don’t trust UDP

Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Tibbetts both lampooned claims by Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush in the Caymanian Compass last week that he would make up-to-date audits a priority if his party triumphed at next year’s election.

‘I suppose he is talking about the kind of accountability we’ve seen in relation to the port development project, the National Housing Development scheme and Boatswains Beach,’ said Mr. McLaughlin.

Mr. Bush had said ‘it is absolutely ridiculous that a government that talks so much about openness, transparency and accountability haven’t published [annual reports] in four years,’ – a barb Mr. Tibbetts conceded had gotten to him.

Mr. McLaughlin said the controversy over late accounts is undercutting the PPM’s government-in-the-sunshine claims.

‘This sort of thing, over which we have no control, actually runs counter to everything else we have been trying to do in terms of openness and transparency and accountability for what the government is doing.

‘So it is frustrating and undermining to the kind of culture that we have tried to create since we have been in government.’