The regular public release of reports from the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s Office will not be delayed to await presentation before the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, committee chairman Roy McTaggart said Thursday.
The issue of withholding auditor general reports until the accounts committee has had a chance to review them was raised on Wednesday by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who pointed to what he said were mistakes in the travel and hospitality expenditures audit that was released last year. Officials at the auditor’s office have denied what Mr. Bush said were errors and say they did not intend to “smear” civil servants or the government, as Mr. Bush has claimed.
Prior to 2006, auditors general could not independently release their audits of government entities and ventures. Those reports had first to be presented to the Public Accounts Committee, which would write its own evaluation and recommendations, and release that along with the original auditor’s report.
The current practice requires only that the auditor’s reports be submitted to the Speaker of the House who has a brief period of time – usually 48 hours – to pass those reports along to all Legislative Assembly members. After that grace period, the reports are released and typically evaluated some months later by the committee.
Mr. McTaggart admitted that audit reports should be brought to his committee with greater alacrity, the difficulty largely being scheduling conflict with members and civil servants that must attend the proceedings.
However, he said that’s no excuse or proper reason to delay the reports’ release to the wider public.
“If they have to go to the Public Accounts Committee first, there’s a six-to-eight month delay and [the report’s] relevance and value decreases,” Mr. McTaggart said.
Particularly with regard to the travel audit that was released in 2014, but which covered a period during Mr. Bush’s former United Democratic Party administration, the now-opposition leader said he was not given an opportunity to respond to many of the allegations contained in the document.
“The way they write these reports and the words they use and the many facts that have been left out …. it’s not helping,” Mr. Bush said Wednesday. “And this government [referring to the Progressives-led administration] better understand that it’s their turn next.”
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick, who did not respond directly to any of Mr. Bush’s claims during Wednesday’s hearing, did note that any auditor general’s office report was not issued without significant input from the civil service and government departments and ministries involved.
“[The travel and hospitality expenses audit] went through three drafts and the government took action [on the issues it raised] while the audit was under way,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “This report is not just issued cold without colleagues in the civil service having a chance to comment on it.”
Indeed, some of the ministries covered – and criticized – by the travel audit report indicated they welcomed the findings of the auditor general, even if they believed the reports might provide a bit better context for the areas they review.
“This auditor general’s report is a very good one,” said Planning Ministry Chief Officer Alan Jones. “It was very good timing. The proof of the pudding, in some ways, is that government has taken on the recommendations and is doing its level best [in] implementing those recommendations.”