Monroe Ellis says some public sector audits may miss some weaknesses

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Monroe Ellis says some public sector audits may miss some weaknesses

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 14, 2021

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AUDITOR General Pamela Monroe Ellis says her department completed 107 of 162 constitutionally commissioned audits of ministries, agencies and departments (MDAs) up to November 2020, but that even with the ground covered those investigations may not have caught all weaknesses across the public sector.

“Despite the findings specified in this report, I cannot guarantee that all deficiencies, errors, and irregularities were identified, as the scope of the audits executed were limited to the entities selected for review during the period,” Monroe Ellis pointed out in the Auditor General Department's (AGD) annual report for 2019/20, tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

She explained that in some instances, the scope of the audit was limited to transactions, but that notwithstanding the specificity of the probes, it must be noted that some of the deficiencies identified, particularly relating to governance, presented financial exposure to the Government, creating risks which may derail its 2030 national development plan agenda.

Fifty-five audits remain in progress. Resource management and governance weaknesses were dominant in 44 of those completed, including performance-based probes, the auditor general said.

The report outlined that the timely completion of audits by the Performance Audit Unit was adversely affected by delays in the submission of requested information by some auditees as well as deficiencies in their records management. Furthermore the COVID-19 crisis has also had an impact on the unit's work since March, with the restrictions exacerbating existing challenges, “notwithstanding, we continued our efforts to deliver high-quality audit reports with implementable recommendations, through rigorous interrogation of audit evidence using various analytical tools and verifications, consistent with our quality standards and the expectations of our stakeholders”, Monroe Ellis said.

Requests for special investigations increased during the period, the auditor general noted. The unit selected entities for audits based on requests from Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and internal assessments. “We consider the increasing demand for special audits, a demonstration of the significant trust and confidence in the ability of the unit to undertake rigorous and exhaustive interrogation of audit evidence,” the report noted.

Pointing to one of the probes which made headlines for the better part of a year, Monroe Ellis said following her 2018 report on the operations of Petrojam a review of the state oil refinery's implementation plan showed progress in the strengthening of oversight responsibilities of the board of directors, particularly compliance with the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act and the Corporate Governance Framework.

“This is important, given that several malpractices resource administration identified by the 2018 audit occurred because of weak internal controls and a lack of transparency in decision-making,” she said.

The auditor general also took note of the increased oversight of Petrojam's donations and the implementation of checklists to allow for proper due diligence and transparency. She pointed to the implementation of new initiatives to reduce oil losses, which support existing measures that were strengthened, such as tank repair and preventative maintenance.

“I commend Petrojam's management for its efforts in implementing the auditor general's recommendations and improving its level of transparency,” the Government's chief auditor said.

The report showed 352 financial statements and appropriation accounts outstanding for 119 MDAs as of March 2020, dating back to 2012. Monroe Ellis advised that, “These entities are required to prepare both appropriation accounts and accrual basis accounts and therefore, I am only reporting on the years that the statements have not been submitted for audit.”


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