The premature leak of an auditor general’s report to almost every media outlet in the Cayman Islands this week has led government’s financial watchdog to call for change in the way his office’s findings are released to the public.
Essentially, Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick wants to start releasing his reports earlier.
“At present … we deliver it [to the Legislative Assembly] and we give them a period of grace for it to be distributed to members so they can all see it prior to making it public,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “My view is, once it’s delivered there it should be a public document.”
For the last several years, reports from the auditor general’s office have been delayed about 48 hours from the time they are given to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The delay ostensibly allows all members of the house to review the document prior to it being released to the media and the general public.
However, there is no specific requirement for that 48-hour delay in the LA Standing Orders. This has, in the past, led to some confusion in the process of how audit reports are made public.
Mr. Swarbrick’s most recent report, delivered to Legislative Assembly members on Monday afternoon, was made public Tuesday morning by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller who read sections of the document during his appearance on a local radio talk show. By Tuesday afternoon, some local news websites including the Caymanian Compass, carried abbreviated stories about the audit. On Wednesday morning, a full report appeared in the Caymanian Compass and opposition party members were on the radio discussing it again.
Mr. Swarbrick’s office held a news conference about the report at 9am Wednesday.
“The message was already out there … before we’d had a chance to talk about it,” he said. “The fact that we deliver it to the Legislative Assembly, it gets out before we’ve had a chance to make comment on it, it’s not ideal.”
Mr. Miller, in reading certain sections of the report over the radio, did precisely what the current LA Standing Orders allowed him to do.
“Standing Orders say the [audit] report shall be made public once it’s delivered to the Speaker,” said Audit Manager Martin Ruben, adding that the report had been delivered to the Speaker on Monday. Ironically, Mr. Miller has previously advocated that auditor general’s reports should be formally laid on the table of the Legislative Assembly prior to their release, not simply given to the clerk and the Speaker.
Mr. Miller’s earlier proposal, made as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee which reviews all auditor general’s reports, required those to be tabled in the first available meeting of the Legislative Assembly after distribution to the members before becoming public. Typically, the act of tabling any document in the Legislative Assembly makes it public.
The earlier plan would also have required 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 resigned as Public Accounts Committee chairman earlier this year.
Mr. Swarbrick said negotiations were under way with current committee chairman Moses Kirkconnell about how audit reports are to be released. No final decisions have been made on the subject, he said.