Chairman defends auditor general as member of Integrity Commission
PANTON... a conflict of interest arises when someone has acompeting professional or personal obligation, or a personal orfinancial interest that would make it difficult for that person to fulfilhis or her duties fairly

CHAIRMAN of the Integrity Commission retired Justice Seymour Panton staunchly defended Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis's membership on the commission, dismissing arguments that it is a conflict of interest.

“That is not so. There has even been the suggestion that there has been a breach of the constitution. That is also not so,” Justice Panton said in a position statement to the parliamentary oversight committee for the commission yesterday.He contended that a conflict of interest arises when someone has a competing professional or personal obligation, or a personal or financial interest, that would make it difficult for that person to fulfil his or her duties fairly. “That situation does not exist in the circumstances being discussed. However, assuming that there is a perception of a conflict of interest (which is definitely not admitted), the situation has been managed effectively and efficiently by the arrangements that have been made,” Justice Panton said.

He said the presence of the auditor general on the Integrity Commission is not a recent occurrence, as for close to 50 years, auditors general have been a member of commissions that deal with integrity, “and there has not been a dissenting voice as to that situation until recently. It would be good to know what, if anything, has happened in recent times to bring into question the auditor general's membership of the commission.”Questions about Monroe Ellis's position as one of five members of the Integrity Commission was first raised by minister in charge of works, Everald Warmington, at a meeting of the committee on October 14.He objected to the use of external auditors to certify the commission's accounts, after executive director Gregg Christie explained that Monroe Ellis had noted that it would be a conflict of interest for her to audit an entity of which she is a commissioner.Warmington said the auditor general should have recognised the defect in the law and recused herself from the commission entirely, as this was a constitutional breach.

Yesterday, Justice Panton outlined that auditors general have been named as the first member of the commission since 1973 when the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act became operational, and that this continued to be the case with the Corruption (Prevention) Act in 2001, as well as when the Integrity Commission Act took effect in 2018.He said the auditor general's role is complementary to the commission, given its mandate to promote ethical and fair conduct among public officials and others in matters such as the awarding and execution of contracts, the maintenance of accurate records as regards the expenditure of public funds, and to prosecute corrupt civil servants.Regarding the auditing of the accounts of the commission, the chairman said the law requires that these be audited by an auditor appointed in each year by the commission with the approval of the minister.Committee member Marlene Malahoo Forte the attorney general, said the current arrangement was a practical one, seeing that the auditor general could not, whilst sitting on the commission, audit its financial statements. She suggested that Parliament addresses the situation through legislation.

— Alphea Sumner

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