Release of government audits confused

According to government officials,
the public release of auditor general reports is still operating under an ad
hoc process pending the approval of changes to Legislative Assembly Standing
Orders.

The
current government has adopted a policy that all 15 elected members of the
Legislative Assembly must sign off on audit reports before they are released.
Previously, the auditor would present those reports to the Speaker of the House
and then simply wait 48 hours before making them available.

Governor Duncan
Taylor said he didn’t see anything wrong with the new policy of having all 15
LA members sign to indicate that they have received the reports, as long it
doesn’t cause “undue delays”.

Mr.
Taylor’s office indicated that it expected an audit report on the state of
government accounts to be released Tuesday.

Auditor
General Dan Duguay said Monday that he had been given no such direction from
the Public Accounts Committee. However, around mid-day Tuesday, Mr. Duguay said
he had been notified that the report was authorised to be released.

The full
details of the audit will appear in Thursday’s editions of the Caymanian
Compass.  

The outgoing
auditor general wrote in an e-mail last week that he was never consulted on the
policy that requires all 15 elected LA members to sign off on audits.  

“I
am dismayed to hear that you thought I had agreed to the process,” Mr. Duguay
wrote in an e-mail to Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller. “The
truth is I have never been asked for my opinion and this new procedure was
developed without any input from me or my office. In fact, I still have not
received any instructions from PAC as to what these procedures are.”

PAC
Chairman Miller indicated in his response to Mr. Duguay that the procedure for
releasing reports was not new, and that the former Public Accounts Committee
members had reviewed the changes with the auditor.

Mr. Duguay said he did not believe
that the previous Public Accounts Committee required all 15 LA members to
physically sign a document authorising an audit’s release.

The amendment
made to Legislative Assembly Standing Order 77(3) in April 2006 stated: “Upon
receipt by the Speaker, a report mentioned in paragraph (1) shall be deemed to
have been referred by the House to the Public Accounts Committee for
consideration and shall forthwith be distributed to all Members and shall
become a public document.”  It made no
mention of requiring all Members of the Legislative Assembly to sign a document
authorising receipt, or to even see the document first.

However, former
PAC Chairman Osbourne Bodden confirmed that that it was his recollection that
the previous Committee had adopted as policy _– in agreement with the speaker
of the house and the auditor general – a system whereby all members were to see
the an auditor general’s report before it was made public.

“It was
the intent to eventually make changes to [the Standing Orders] to clearly outline
the new policy,” Mr. Bodden said.

The issue of when and how to
release audit reports has been brewing since last year, when Mr. Duguay and
members of the Public Accounts Committee verbally sparred over the process.

Mr. Duguay has previously expressed
concerns that legislators were attempting to delay the release of audit reports
to the public.  Mr. Miller has stated that there appears to be no set
process for doing this and has proposed changes to the Standing Orders to
clarify the matter.

“I believe, if approved, these…amendments will bring clarity to the
process…and introduce the necessary timeliness for effective and efficient disposal
of these reports by the Public Accounts Committee,” Mr. Miller told the
Legislative Assembly in August.

He said proposed changes to LA Standing Orders would require the
auditor’s reports to be tabled in the first available meeting of the Legislative
Assembly after distribution to the members before becoming public. The act of
tabling any document in the Legislative Assembly makes it public. 

The plan would also require the PAC to make its own evaluative report
with recommendations and table that report in the LA within three months of the
auditor’s report being made public.

The government would then have a further three months to make public its
response to the auditor’s report and the committee’s recommendations.

Mr. Miller said he did not intend to propose that the auditor’s reports
be delayed until after the Public Accounts Committee had dealt with them, as
has occurred in the past.

The failure of previous committees to hear audit reports in a timely fashion
has delayed the public release of those documents for years.

Mr. Duguay has previously said that going back to the old ways of handling
auditor’s reports would be a “dangerous, dangerous precedent”.

Mr. Duguay
said he has long understood that elected lawmakers take criticism for some of
items contained in auditors’ reports, whether it is warranted or not.  

“Legislators
have a difficult job,” Mr. Duguay said. “I admire politicians. I admire them so
much I would never want to do their job.

“They have
to take 100 different points of view and try to come up with a policy, knowing
that you’re going to aggravate a bunch of people.”

Mr. Duguay
has often been accused by elected members of having an agenda. He admitted last
week that he does.

“I have an
agenda. I want to get my message out the best way I can,” he said. “I think
that’s the only way to go. I hope the next auditor general has a similar philosophy.
I know other auditors general in other countries do, but here that doesn’t seem
acceptable.”  

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