Auditor general issues ‘adverse’ opinion on public finances
For the first time since the Cayman Islands government began using accrual accounting in 2004, the financial statements of the entire public sector have provided enough information to undergo an audit.
Outgoing Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said Wednesday that he was forced to issue an “adverse” opinion for those statements from the government’s 2013/14 financial year on Sept. 22. That means the information provided was seriously deficient in a number of areas.
Prior to that, public sector finances for the last decade were not complete enough for auditors to review.
Compared to five years ago, when close to half of the government ministries, portfolios and statutory agencies were submitting largely unreadable financial statements, the auditor general said the result represented a significant improvement.
“We’ve never been able to do a proper audit on the entire public sector,” Mr. Swarbrick said Wednesday. “It’s all relative. [The results] aren’t great, but it’s a lot better.”
In the entire public sector audit, Mr. Swarbrick said, 18 of 26 statutory authorities and government companies received the best possible results, an unqualified opinion. Also, he noted ministries that had struggled with proper financial reporting in the past – including tourism and planning – were given “qualified” opinions – meaning some deficiencies were noted, but that the financial records could generally be relied upon.
“It’s not what you want ultimately. What your expectation should be is that everybody presents financial statements and they should get unqualified opinions. That should be the norm,” Mr. Swarbrick said.
Mr. Swarbrick, who left office Wednesday, said he was a bit disappointed that getting the public sector finances of the Cayman Islands to this point took five years, since his arrival in July 2010.
However, the auditor general, who is leaving for a job with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, said the process served to “raise expectations” about what government should be achieving with public funds.
“We can see it in terms of how they’re managing projects now, the airport, the dump, they are following a process which is more likely to deliver value for money for the citizens of the Cayman Islands,” he said.
The sheer amount of time and effort spent getting public sector finances back in order did affect the auditor general office’s ability to look into a number of other areas that Mr. Swarbrick said he once had targeted for review. Those included the effectiveness of healthcare delivery in Cayman, the delivery of education services and the financial management of the local criminal justice system.
“My biggest issue with [the government] is how long they took to respond [on financial management issues],” he said.
Mr. Swarbrick said those matters would have to be left to his successor, who has not yet been named. Deputy Auditor General Garnet Harrison will serve as acting auditor general until someone is hired for the full-time post.