Claiming the Cayman Islands auditor general had unfairly “smeared” civil servants working in his former ministry, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said low staffing levels, not incompetence, led to failures in financial accountability. Mr. Bush’s comments were made Wednesday in a “personal statement” delivered to the Legislative Assembly.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick reported on Oct. 21 that about $1 billion of spending in two government ministries remains unaccounted for, questioning the competency of some officials responsible for managing public money.
That $1 billion figure spanned a period between 2004 and 2012, Mr. Swarbrick later clarified.
The two large ministries, highlighted as the worst offenders, have been unable to provide a reliable account of how they have spent the people’s money for the past eight years, the auditor reported in an analysis of financial and performance reporting in all government ministries and portfolios for 2010 to 2012.
One of the ministries referred to was Mr. Bush’s former Ministry of Financial Services, Tourism and Development.
“The auditor general has sensationalized the communication to the media in his press briefing, with no regard to the impact on the ministry staff involved who worked very hard with the little resources they were given,“ Mr. Bush said, demanding that Public Accounts Committee chairman Roy McTaggart hold a hearing quickly on the report to give government workers a chance to “defend themselves.” A spokesperson for the audit office declined to comment on Mr. Bush’s statements.
Mr. McTaggart asked Mr. Bush to resign from the committee earlier this year due to what the chairman called “conflict of interests” in some recent audit reports that focused on Mr. Bush.
The former premier told the Legislative Assembly that when he took over responsibility for the areas of tourism, financial services and development, there were only three to four staff on the finance team for his entire ministry. He said other ministries had as many as 12 finance staff.
“The ministry…was severely understaffed,” Mr. Bush said. “There was no capacity to ensure good oversight of both financial services and tourism with the number of staff in place.”
Posts for additional accounting personnel in the ministry were made a part of initial budgets between 2009 and 2013, Mr. Bush said.
“All the vacant posts for accounts staff were removed during budget cuts each year in order for government to meet its overall budget target to be approved by the U.K.,” he said.
Further, a ministry staff reshuffle, following the ouster of Mr. Bush’s government in late 2012, left the ministry accounting staff with just two people, the opposition leader said. The ministry had full audits conducted on its 2010/11 and 2011/12 financial statements simultaneously in June 2013. “Much too late for the accounting management staff to make improvements in either financial year,” he said.
“Clearly, there are no competency issues with finance staff of the ministry,” Mr. Bush said. “It is simply unfair for the auditor general to state so. There were capacity issues due to staff shortages.
“It seems he’s hell-bent on making politicians and civil servants look as bad as possible.”