MPs want more powers for Auditor General Dept
MEMBERS of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday called for the Auditor General Department to be empowered to ensure that government ministries and departments comply with proper accounting procedures.
Several ministries and departments are each year hauled before the PAC to explain cost-overruns, over-payments, and a general disregard for proper accounting standards. However, most times no action is taken against the delinquents, often leaving the country with millions of dollars in losses.
The PAC members made the call during a sensitisation session conducted by Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis and members of her department to give an overview of the work of the department and its relevance to the committee during its meeting at Gordon House in downtown Kingston.
Monroe Ellis, who had requested permission from committee chairman Audley Shaw to conduct the orientation, said she had felt the need to do so, given that 90 per cent of the PAC members are new.
Opposition MP Everald Warmington, who was selected to deputise in the absence of Shaw, said the issue of entities disregarding the recommendations of the Auditor General has dogged the committee over the years and needed to be resolved.
“There are some departments that, regardless of recommendations from the Auditor General Department and from the Public Accounts Committee, take very little action,” said Warmington. “Former committee member Ronald Thwaites has called repeatedly for Parliament to put some sanctions in place or some stiff charges, but there are some departments that year after year come back with the same issues. Parliament has to institute some strong sanctions for these departments to get anything done.”
His comment came on the heels of questions from Opposition committee member Pearnel Charles, who had questioned reported utterances from persons linked to various agencies who, from time to time, complain that they had not been privy to the contents of the Auditor General’s annual report.
“… Complaints are coming in that the issues were corrected before they were reported to Parliament; some people say they were not questioned before the report and is it a shortcoming; is it deliberate?” Charles asked.
Monroe-Ellis made it clear that under no circumstance can a report be tabled in Parliament and persons involved not be made aware of its contents. “There is strict procedure, not just the internal procedure of the AG Department, but international standards with, which we comply to ensure that officers are aware [and] are provided with an opportunity to respond,” she said.
She also maintained that her department has a constitutional responsibility “to report on all discrepancies identified during the process of the audit. That is not something that is a discretionary matter, it is a requirement under the Constitution, but officers are given sufficient opportunity to respond in all instances,” the auditor general said.
She, however, pointed out that, despite its fact-finding missions, the office had no powers to sanction.
Charles, who was in support of the stance taken by Warmington, said the cycle must stop. “I strongly support the point; at some stage we must look at what can strengthen your efficiency as small crimes require big sanctions so that there are no big crimes,” said Charles.
“Parliament should really consider strengthening the Auditor General Department to prevent this from continuing year after year; nobody seems to care because there are no sanctions against them. At some stage we in the Parliament must give the Auditor General Department authority to stop this weakness in the system,” he said.