The Public Accounts Committee is examining if public audit reports should be kept under wraps until the committee has scrutinised them.
The Auditor General currently releases his reports 48 hours after handing them to the Speaker of the House and before they go before the Public Accounts Committee.
Responding to a call by Bodden Town MLA Dwayne Seymour that reports should not be made public until the Public Accounts Committee examines them and until people have had a chance to defend themselves before the committee, Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said: “The reports are made public, then the Public Accounts Committee has a chance to review them, bring witnesses, but I think that has to be done in an open and transparent way for the purposes of democracy.”
He said it was the “agreed international perspective” of all public audit offices that the Auditor General has control over when audit reports are made public. Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Moses Kirkconnell said the committee had spoken several times about the subject of when the audit reports should be released publicly and was looking at “information from other sources that would help us make a decision”.
He said the Public Accounts Committee had the authority to call witnesses and ask for more information from the Auditor General on specific issues raised in reports.
The discussion came during a meeting Friday at which the Public Accounts Committee examined a report by the Auditor General into how the government manages its procurements, as well as three case studies he had prepared that included the aborted Cohen and Company deal to secure a $155 million loan for Cayman, the 2009 Jazz Fest and a contract for CCTVs.
Mr. Kirkconnell, at the meeting, requested Mr. Swarbrick speak again with Peter Young, treasurer of the United Democratic Party, to get more information about the role Mr. Young played in the Cohen and Company deal. Mr. Young had asked McKeeva Bush if the premier wanted him to request the New York firm to prepare a proposal to arrange the loan. Mr. Young said he had then contacted Cohen and Company and later forwarded the firm’s proposal to government, but insisted that was the extent of his involvement, although the audit report said Mr. Young had given information and some analysis on the deal to Ministry of Finance officials. Earlier in the meeting, Premier Bush also criticised the release of reports from the Office of the Auditor General prior to the Public Accounts Committee dealing with them.
He said while he hoped the Auditor General was not deliberately setting out to damage people’s reputations, he warned him to be “careful” about the phraseology used in his reports.
Referring to the former Auditor General Dan Duguay, Mr. Bush said: “I thought, with the departure of the last cowboy, that that would have been a little bit better done,” adding that in a small island, the words used in a report had to be carefully chosen. He said initially he had supported the release of reports before they went to the Public Accounts Committee, but said now he believed the current arrangement was not fully supported by standing orders, by the constitution, by the Public Management and Finance Law or by conventions of proper parliamentary procedure.
“That’s my opinion because all these things get out before we get here [to the Public Accounts Committee] and sit through what the audit office has found,” he said.
A standing order of the Legislative Assembly was amended in 2006 to state the auditor general’s report “shall become a public document” upon its receipt by the speaker.
Prior to this change, audit reports were made public after an investigation and report by the Public Accounts Committee. Mr. Seymour argued people did not get a chance to defend what was written about them in the audit reports until they appeared as witnesses before the Public Accounts Committee.
“We have seen many times when we come in here and look at these reports … and question people, [the report’s] already gone out to the public in a negative light. We learn a lot new, but it’s been out so long in the public before we can have this format and you become labelled corrupt before it can even be clarified,” Mr. Seymour said.
“I understand the reason for reports to get out there and get out there hastily, but not hastily wrong and damaging to good civil servants and other good people in this country,” he said.
Mr. Swarbrick said reports were published after “discussion or clearance with officials”.
“That is a key part of this process. That is to ensure accuracy and quality of everything we’re saying,” adding in the reports before the Public Accounts Committee on Friday, the audit office had taken on board various comments and made amendments in its final report to reflect those discussions.
Audit reports include a section for management responses to recommendations made by the auditor general.