Playing 'Hide and Seek' with audit reports

Many of the Internal Audit reports released through Freedom of Information requests in recent years have undoubtedly led to much embarrassment for the civil service. Just think back to the two reports about the GASBOY fuel monitoring system that indicated widespread misuse of government fuel distribution, and, more recently, to the review of the Cayman Islands Postal Services that showed poor management decisions and practices, and staff that willfully ignored superiors.

This newspaper routinely requests a list of Internal Audit Unit reports and after inspection of that list, requests copies of some or all of those reports. That the resulting news articles have caused some consternation and embarrassment in the civil service is neither our goal nor our concern; our only purpose is to report the news, and the provisions of the FOI Law are but one tool we use to accomplish that task.

Increasingly of late, we’re finding resistance to FOI requests that include ignoring the requests, not responding in a timely fashion or denying the requests for specious reasons. Now, the Portfolio of the Civil Service is trying to institute year-long delays between the issuance of Internal Audit Unit reports and their being made public. 

The premature release of the reports, the Portfolio argues, “will prejudice the effectiveness of the Internal Audit function, however this prejudice diminishes over time.” Their basic argument is that the release of the reports prior to allowing the audited entities “adequate consideration of the recommendations” could make the audit clients less likely to cooperate with the audit process, rendering the unit unable to achieve its mandate. In other words, the reason for delaying the release of the reports is for the benefit of the Internal Audit Unit.

What’s more, the Portfolio seems to have an issue with releasing Internal Audit reports in response to an FOI request, calling that process – which is really the basis of every FOI request made – “ad hoc.”
“The practice of ad hoc disclosure of Internal Audit reports without audited entities having a clear understanding as to when the audit reports will be released,” the Portfolio argues, “is prejudicial to the effectiveness of the Internal Audit function by harming the relationship between the Unit and its audit clients.”

That is what the Portfolio of the Civil Service says. 

Here’s what we say: “Nonsense.”

This is nothing more than a self-serving tactic to delay response to open records requests that are likely to reflect negatively on the way civil service operates. The delay doesn’t protect the Internal Audit Unit; it protects the civil service departments that have been audited.

If the continued release of these reports on a timely basis causes personnel in audited departments to become uncooperative, then those not cooperating need to be removed. The civil service tail has wagged the government dog for far too long – and nearly every minister (past or present), if administered truth serum or a polygraph, will tell you privately the same thing.

One of the benefits of the FOI Law is that it allows public access to records that can hold government and its employees accountable. In addition, the publication of such records can often initiate changes for the betterment of the country.

Shortly after the Cayman Compass published a series of news articles about the way government ministers and senior civil servants were using – and in some cases, misusing – their government-issued credit cards, the government issued new guidelines aimed at preventing credit card abuse in the future.

The best way to get inefficiencies in government out of government is to shine light on them. As the story in today’s newspaper indicates, only 24 percent of 327 recommendations made in 55 Internal Audit reports between 2007 and 2012 were fully implemented.

Allowing the reports to “ripen,” that is remain hidden from the public for a year, isn’t a strategy for improving the “effectiveness” of the Internal Audit Unit. It is a strategy to hide those documents from the people who paid for them and own them, the people of the Cayman Islands.

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  1. I wonder if some people in CIG might have been encouraged to refuse to make the results of their audits public by instances in which the Office of the Auditor General has refused (as has recently happened with Operation Tempura) to even conduct an audit where one was clearly necessary.

    In fact I suspect a detailed investigation of some of the departments and organisations that OAG has not found fault with in recent years might raise more than a few awkward questions.
    As one example – was the Information Commissioner’s Office really justified in splashing out CI$500,000 on legal fees (a sum matched by the Governor’s Office) to fight an FOI issue through the courts? That decision appears to have simply been rubber-stamped by OAG without any real investigation into where all the money went.
    Another example might be the potentially even larger amounts that were spent by the Attorney General’s Office chasing Martin Bridger through the courts both here and on the UK over documents removed from Operation Tempura. Shouldn’t that simply have been a police matter?
    The bottom line is people learn by example and they’ll happily copy both the bad and the good without making much distinction between the two. In this case those involved could easily be excused for thinking along the lines of – What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  2. These reports have historically been kicked into long grass, because the CIG and politicians have become used to being able to ignore them.
    These reports are for both the Government, and the people. It is absurd that the very people that are being investigated can hold them up at all let alone for long periods.
    The only solution, because the rights of "reply" are being abused is to have a time limit. Say, 3 months to respond to the report and a further month after which it is public. That would sort a few wrongs, and thats why it will never happen!