Giving a hand to the Auditor General

At times, Alastair Swarbrick must feel like the Maytag repairman in the famous commercial – the loneliest guy in the Cayman Islands government.

And who would wonder why? For years, Auditor General Swarbrick has been on his own sounding off on inefficiencies, waste and risks of corruption in the public sector.

The reports issued by Mr. Swarbrick and his team are, as a rule, sound, thorough, well-researched and, all too often, ignored. Mr. Swarbrick, no doubt the most patient of men, frequently populates his reports with praise for progress made and recommendations for better performance moving forward.

Unfortunately for Mr. Swarbrick – and the Cayman Islands – too often his reports are treated more as fanning devices than serious reading material that need to be acted upon.

At last, however, Mr. Swarbrick seems to have caught the attention of two powerful figures in government, Premier Alden McLaughlin and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, with the publication of his latest report on problems in statutory authorities and government-owned companies.

Mr. McLaughlin has promised legislation that will attempt to give central government more control over those agencies, which have steadily grown in size while core government has shrunk.

The premier’s response contrasts starkly with the reaction, or lack thereof, that we have come to expect in response to the auditor general’s bombshell reports.

While some government entities embrace Mr. Swarbrick’s advice with alacrity, others barely appear to acknowledge the existence of auditors. Adherence to the auditor general’s findings, even when they concern possible infringements of the law, certainly seems to be at the discretion of the government units, with little-to-no pressure for change being exerted by lawmakers on the Public Accounts Committee.

Government’s continuing inability – or refusal – to submit clean financial statements is one of Cayman’s great national failures, dwelling in the same pantheon as the odoriferous George Town landfill and the money-bleeding Turtle Farm.

In theory, Mr. Swarbrick’s job as Cayman’s government auditor should be one of the cushiest in the world. After all, he resides in a lovely tropical locale that is overpopulated by talented brethren – some of the best accountants and auditors to be found anywhere. It borders on embarrassment that one of the world’s premier financial centers cannot track clearly how it is spending its money.

But there is hope.

For the first time, the Cayman Islands governor, who appoints the auditor general, is herself an accountant. The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is George Town MLA Roy McTaggart, a former managing partner of major accounting firm KPMG.

With Helen Kilpatrick as governor, Mr. Swarbrick as auditor general, and Mr. McTaggart heading the Public Accounts Committee, it appears that Cayman could have no better-qualified people occupying those three vital roles.

However, it’s not enough just to have the right people in the right positions. They must act.

Given her background and responsibility to ensure the good governance of the Cayman Islands, we urge Ms Kilpatrick to take a more prominent role in empowering the auditor general, to use her influence in a no-nonsense way with lawmakers and civil servants, and to engage the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service when potentially criminal matters are uncovered.

The Compass editorial board supports all efforts that make government more accountable, efficient and transparent. Any substantial victories, we suspect, will necessarily involve the talented triumvirate of accountants – Governor Kilpatrick, Mr. Swarbrick and Mr. McTaggart – and the chances of success will be that much greater so long as Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Manderson continue to champion the cause.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I only have one problem with this editorial and that is the stubborn refusal by Alastair Swarbrick to complete the audit on Operations Tempura and Cealt that was commenced by his predecessor, Dan Duguay, in 2009.

    We all know what happened back then – Mr Duguay was effectively sacking to daring to investigate the operations. In fact the records show that at least one senior civil servant even did his best to force Mr Duguay to drop the audit.

    What we also now know is that the conclusions of that audit was hopelessly compromised because the information they were based on was, to put it very politely, incomplete. In fact to be very blunt some of the material provided to the AG in 2009 was complete garbage. With hindsight it all looks like a massive cover up.

    Because the audit has never been completed the official direct cost of Tempura/Cealt is on hold at CI10 million. However, that figure is now five years, and several costly court hearings, out of date. Best guess is the current tab, including indirect losses like a period of high, post-Tempura staff turnover at RCIPS, is now well over CI25 million.

    So why is Tempura/Cealt off limits? Too embarrassing possibly?

    I have been pushing this quite hard and getting excuses from Mr Swarbrick that are complete nonsense. I believe from the material in my possession the original audit was illegally interfered with. I also believe that the people of the Cayman Islands have a right to know where all the money went, particularly when these almost totally unproductive operations were in the main run from the UK, and I rather suspect that the FCO are working very hard to make sure that never happens.

    In May these issues are going to be the subject of a public debate in the USA, both Mr Duguay and myself will be there. It might be expedient for the AG to consider at least a token effort to deal with some of the material I have provided his office before that happens.

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  2. Quick apology for the numerous typos in the earlier comment. We had some power problems while it was being prepared and rather than risk losing the text I sent what was there without properly correcting it.

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