Cayman’s new numbers man

The often unspoken assumption in the Cayman Islands is that British
civil servants who come here to work are looking for a nice, easy gig to round
out their careers just prior to retirement.

The stereotype is so ingrained that
government workers will sometimes joke that being age 57 is actually a
prerequisite for new Cayman Islands governors. In other words, the suggestion
is that they are three years from the mandatory retirement age of 60.

However, newly appointed Auditor
General Alastair Swarbrick does not seem to fit that mould.

Swarbrick is 42 – fairly young for
his profession – and he has never run an operation the size of the Cayman
Islands Auditor General’s office before.

The Scottish native believes the
three-island chain, which is now home to something less than 60,000 people,
offers a lot of opportunity.

“I want a challenge is the main
reason,” Swarbrick says. “Opportunities are limited at the moment, certainly at
home in terms of progression and change. I was looking for the next step.

“I’ve always wanted to work in
another culture, and I also think I can bring my experience, what I’ve done in
20 years of public audit, to do some good.”

Swarbrick, during his first public
interview since taking over the office, says he has spent his first month in
the Islands trying to assess the country’s financial status and speaking with
government representatives about their concerns.

He is well aware of the ongoing
problem of unaudited government accounts. It was first revealed in 2008 that
some $1.5 billion in Cayman Islands government spending had gone unaudited over
a period of several years. Swarbrick says he’s making clearing up the backlog
from those unfinished audits a major office priority.

“I think I’d be disingenuous if I
didn’t say there was an area of concern around it,” Swarbrick says. “It’s
something that we’re actively working with the government on.”

A conclusion to the ongoing saga,
for better or worse, will come before the end of this year. That’s when the
auditor general’s office intends to complete its work on six years of
backlogged audits and deliver those to government’s Public Accounts Committee. 

The new auditor says he fully
intends to comply with statutory deadlines that require a report on government
accounts to be filed by 15 December and he indicated that report will be filed
“at whatever stage we’ve got to” on that date.

The report will be completed
whether or not government entities have actually completed their financial
statements for the year, Swarbrick says. 

Clearing up the backlog of public
accounts and annual reports from government entities, as well as statutory
authorities and government-owned companies, is important for another reason –
what Swarbrick calls “the wider scope” of audit work.

“It’s not just looking at the
financial statements,” he says. “You have to look at whether the transactions
are being incurred in line with legislation and also looking at whether there’s
been value for money achieved in terms of the expenditure.” 

“I think that’s a fundamental key
component of being a public auditor. Even though there’s no direct taxation on
this island, it’s still public money. As you have no choice in that, it’s
important that your government is getting value for money.”

Value-for-money is one of the three
important elements of being a public auditor, Swarbrick says.

The first, and most important, is
independence from government; and the other is the auditor’s ability to
publicly report his or her findings. 

On that last point, Mr. Swarbrick
isn’t having much to say at the moment. He said talks are continuing with government
officials about precisely how and when auditor general’s reports can be
released.

One area that his office will not
get into is attempting to influence government policy, Swarbrick says.

“Our role is to look at the
implementation and how that’s been done efficiently and effectively,” he says.
“The policy is for government. It’s not our role to say whether it’s good or
bad.”

For now, Swarbrick is working on a
three-year audit plan with members of his office, and he said he still needs to
meet with many government chief officers to determine what areas will be
checked into first, second and third, so to speak.

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