Auditor’s reports may be held

Reports completed by Cayman’s auditor general may again be withheld pending hearings and recommendations by the Public Accounts Committee, a process that has previously delayed the release of those documents for years.

Those reports are now released to the public after they are presented to the Speaker of the House and Legislative Assembly members. However, that is a relatively recent change made during the tenure of Auditor General Dan Duguay.

In the past, auditor’s reports were given to the Public Accounts Committee and reviewed in closed-door proceedings. The committee made recommendations in a separate report, which was then presented to the Legislative Assembly and made public.

‘It’s definitely something we’re going to have to evaluate,’ said committee member and backbench MLA Ellio Solomon. ‘I’ve had discussions with (the auditor, Mr. Duguay) where I’m saying ‘listen, I want to make sure everything is being done in a responsible manner.”

Accounts committee Chairman Ezzard Miller declined to comment for the record on the matter.

Mr. Duguay said he considers the issue one of critical importance to the entire country.

‘It’s just a dangerous, dangerous precedent,’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘This is the one battle that I’ll put everything in.’

The issue, according to those who support a review by the Public Accounts Committee before the auditor’s reports are released, is one of both accuracy and right of reply.

Mr. Solomon pointed to a recent report on the post-Hurricane Ivan insurance settlement done by the auditor general as an example.

‘You’ll get statements made (by the auditor)…the lack of a paper trail, confidentiality clause and then coupled with that, no value for money, etcetera,’ Mr. Solomon said. ‘But if you listened to the debate, you caught something different.’

Mr. Solomon admits that a lengthy delay with the Public Accounts Committee dealing with reports probably led legislators to change Standing Orders so that the auditor could release those documents once they were presented to the LA.

‘There needs to be more of a real time effort and that’s something that this government is going to do is make these reports, deal with it very expeditiously,’ Mr. Solomon said. ‘If it’s dealt with expeditiously, that’s not to say not reasonably responsibly, I don’t think there’s going to be a need to just necessarily dump a report onto the general public for it perhaps to be misconstrued and sensationalised by the media.

‘There should be an opportunity right now…for good due process, that you can get all of the different sides of that story and the general public is now properly informed.’

Mr. Miller has previously committed to getting through the current backlog of ten auditor’s reports by the next LA meeting, scheduled for late September.

Mr. Duguay said he applauds Mr. Miller and other committee member’s efforts, but he said his concern is that the process may again be open to abuse if these reports are delayed from release.

‘It’s great that the Public Accounts Committee has taken the reports that are outstanding, but that’s my point,’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘The history of the PAC…is spotty at best.

‘If the auditor general writes a report that is critical of government operations, they’re able to delay that. That’s not what happens in any country in the world and it shouldn’t happen here. It diminishes the independence of the auditor general.’

Mr. Duguay said he also took issue with statements that individuals are not allowed to respond to reports from the auditor general’s office. He said a first draft of every report his office does is sent to all the people who gave evidence and those who are mentioned in the report.

‘We consult with them extensively,’ he said. ‘In the report we did on Operation Tempura (special police investigation), we have spent more time clearing it than we did in investigating and evaluating it. Everybody has had a chance to respond.’

Mr. Duguay also pointed out that there is no guarantee the Public Accounts Committee hearings will continue to be open to the general public. In fact, he said those meetings were not open until 2008.

Mr. Miller has said he intends to continue holding open hearings on all auditors’ reports while he serves as committee chairman.

‘I’m quite happy to have the PAC release (the reports),’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘What I want to have is auditor general’s reports made public once they go to the LA. Otherwise, it delays the auditor general speaking to the public.’