Careful we don’t discredit oversight bodies, former PM Golding warns
FORMER Prime Minister Bruce Golding is urging public officials to exercise caution and restraint when challenging the findings of the nation’s oversight bodies, arguing that combative confrontations only provide fodder to people who wish to discredit the entities.
“A worrying development has emerged in which the findings and actions of the auditor general and Integrity Commission are being challenged, not just stridently but with vehement indignation,” Golding stated in a column published in today’s Sunday Observer.
He said the Integrity Commission “has become a designer target”, perhaps because its “mandate focuses so much on investigations of possible corruption by public officials”. That, Golding argued, requires the commission to recognise it has a “weighty obligation to be thorough, fair, and objective” — and to be mindful that preserving its integrity and public confidence are “essential to its very existence”.
Golding’s comments come in the wake of recent sharp exchanges between the commission and some parliamentarians, as well as an acrimonious face-off in April between Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis and Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, over the ministry’s spend of more than $619 million in the COVID-19 period up to March 2021, without proper records and procurement management.
The former prime minister also pointed to the recent instance of the head of a statutory agency who, in challenging the findings of the auditor general, raised questions about the competence of her auditors.
“There is nothing wrong with this, one may argue. Public officials whose performance is the subject of adverse findings are entitled to defend themselves and challenge the basis of those findings. That is how a democracy works. However, some of the exchanges I have witnessed have been more combative than deliberative, and leave me with the impression that personal reputations, if not egos, take precedence over the public interest,” Golding said.
He pointed out that the opportunity to challenge the auditor general’s findings would have been provided long before the report is submitted to Parliament and, presumably, the response and explanation offered would have been included in the report. As such, there would be no need “for the bluster and grandstanding in Parliament”.
He said that over the many years when he served in Parliament, including as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, he had never seen the office of auditor general “roughed up” the way it has been on a few occasions in recent times, even when politically explosive issues were being dealt with.
“At times its findings were contested, explanations or clarification offered, sometimes new information presented, and at other times shortcomings acknowledged — all done in a dignified, respectful way. The ‘cass-cass’ that I have observed in recent times is a new phenomenon,” Golding said.
“When public officials see parliamentarians beating up on oversight bodies and displaying scant regard for their important purpose they may conclude, as some seem to have done, that it is perfectly okay for them to do likewise. Discrediting oversight bodies in the eyes of the public is one way of preventing them from fulfilling that purpose. I urge us all to be careful,” the former prime minister cautioned.
See Golding’s column on Page 14.