EDITORIAL-Auditor General: A watchdog that could use more ‘bite’

As reporters, we now find ourselves reporting about “reports about reports.”

We refer, of course, to the latest submission of Auditor General Sue Winspear which lamented the lack of government’s progress in carrying out the recommendations of a number of previous reports.

We appreciate Ms. Winspear’s exasperation (probably too strong a word), but she has chosen a profession, and accepted a position and title in Cayman that suggests she has considerable power and authority when, in fact, she has very little.

Fundamentally, there is the issue of who would love an auditor (except, of course, another auditor)?

Think about what auditors do. They rummage around in other people’s drawers and, if they happen to come across some “dirty laundry,” it’s a good day — maybe even a great day. Auditors do not win popularity contests.

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And yet, we must confess we are inordinately fond of auditors and, in particular, Auditors General such as Ms. Winspear, who do, if not God’s work, certainly ours, meaning the people of the Cayman Islands.

It was auditors’ keen eyes, after all, that uncovered civil servants’ abuses of the GASBOY fuel system — leading to reforms that helped prevent the continuation of widespread siphoning of public funds for private use. (But no arrests, or as far as we can tell, demotions or firings.)

It was auditors who raised red flags about debt financing arrangements for the Boatswain’s Beach/Cayman Turtle Farm project.

And perhaps most importantly, it was auditors who deserve credit for the fact that we have regular financial reporting from government at all, after a 2008 review revealed that the Legislative Assembly had gone for five years without receiving complete financial statements of government spending — representing a total of about $1.5 billion in unaudited expenditures.

But seemingly for every audit report that rouses the public (and consequently politicians, then the public sector) to action, there are many others that never result in reforms.

For example, our country sails blissfully on with a woefully out-of-date development plan, which is two decades old. Calls to make the deliberations of powerful, appointed planning boards more transparent have gone unheeded.

This is not to argue that every recommendation made by the Auditor General should be followed without consideration and examination. Ministry leaders might not have the resources to implement changes, or may disagree with the recommendations themselves. Their voices are vital to the process.

But regardless of whether reports and their recommendations are accepted, rejected or tabled, government’s “customers” — those of us who live, work and pay taxes in Cayman — deserve to know why. We are encouraged by the determination that Ezzard Miller, MLA from the District of North Side, brings to his post as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which reviews Auditor General reports. To the credit of Mr. Miller, his PAC meetings are open, and therefore transparent, to the public and the press.

If you think of the Office of the Auditor General as a watchdog with more enforcement bark than bite, it certainly would benefit from the support of Mr. Miller, who has often been likened to a bulldog and never, to our knowledge, to a pussycat.

Add in one more player, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Commissioner Derek Byrne, and the team begins to sound formidable. A hotline phone connecting Auditor General Winspear directly to Commissioner Byrne should contain one simple instruction: “In case of fraud or corruption, press one.”

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