Believe it or not — we consider this to be good news.
From a public relations standpoint, the Cayman Islands government may not consider these revelations to be “positive,” but we believe the simple fact that the findings have been revealed to represent a significant positive step in the development of both public policy and public information in the territory.
At the present moment, we will refrain from commenting on the substance of this latest batch of Internal Audit Unit reports, other than to make the obvious observation that government auditors have once again exposed serious weaknesses and flaws within the public sector, and ought to be recognized for the good (and often thankless) work they continue to perform.
By the same token, the Internal Audit Unit’s work itself deserves to be recognized by top government officials. For too many years, such internal audits been completed, reviewed, then buried within some catacombs somewhere, never again to see the light of day — until and unless the reports were summoned specifically by an exercise of the Freedom of Information Law. For the past several years, the Compass has been retrieving internal audits by doing just that — lodging separate open records requests and forcing the government’s hand.
Whilst considering our latest FOI request for the internal audit reports, Portfolio of the Civil Service Chief Officer Gloria McField-Nixon wrote, “The prior practice of the release of internal audit information in an ad hoc manner and only upon request is flawed.”
She continued, “The premature release of information before an audit is completed could have an inhibiting effect on the internal audit process.
“However, the passage of time will have an impact on the likely level of prejudice caused in favor of the public interest disclosure.”
We don’t disagree. Like a cake in an oven, there’s a proper window of time for government documents (especially those that are still “works-in-progress”) to be taken out into the open — too soon, and their release can spoil their intent; too late, and they have lost all useful or nutritive value.
Toward that end, the portfolio is introducing a phased publication schedule for the proactive release of internal audits, depending on the nature of the report. Annual follow-ups of audits will be released within one month of completion; regularly scheduled audits will be released within six months of completion; and audits requested by agencies on their own volition will be released “not later than” 12 months after completion. The last and lengthiest time frame is designed to encourage agencies to seek out help from the Internal Audit Unit in diagnosing problems, by giving them additional opportunity to correct those problems before they become public knowledge.
We shall see if the portfolio adheres to the publication schedule it has announced (and more importantly, if the agencies concerned address shortcomings identified in audit reports), but for now we regard the change from “reactive” to “proactive” release as a step in the right direction. That is, of course, the government recognizing it had a problem in the first place.