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Come safer cheques –– and balances

Another year, another annual Auditor General’s Report. Financial infelicities here, there and everywhere. Often the same ineptitude, indifference, indiscipline and, frankly speaking, pilfering are highlighted with every report.

And what happens afterwards? Nothing! Except we comment on them for two or three weeks and then return to our normal state of bliss. It is one of the ironies of the labour movement in this country that year after year the bungling and failure to follow procedures are exposed across the Public Service and neither the National Union of Public Workers or, for that matter, the Barbados Workers Union utters a single word about these reports.

After all, at the end of the day, the workers, not the Government, are responsible for this lamentable mess. Where are the checks and balances that are supposed to ensure our systems function in as professional and productive a manner as possible? Who, internally, are responsible for overseeing these checks and balances?

Let’s face the facts. Barbados’ Public Service has over the years served this country well. There are many hardworking, dedicated individuals who are a credit to their respective departments. But there are some ailments going untreated; so let us take the soiled plaster from festering administrative sores.

And look not to NISE. This agency has little capacity or capability in helping with this situation. This has nothing to do with coming to work early, accumulating minimal sick days or smiling sweetly at customers. This is a cultural malaise born of previously trumpeted job security in the Public Service, where incompetence and ignorance are sometimes rewarded with promotion.

In 1997 as part of its Public Sector Reform and in keeping with developments in the international arena, the Government of the day decided to move from a cash-based accounting system to full accrual accounting. That was 17 years ago. It is astonishing that in 2014 the Auditor General can highlight that cash-based accounting is still being utilized in the Inland Revenue Department.

Yes, accrual accounting was a major undertaking. Yes, it is more complex than the cash-based system. But by identifying monetary activities when they occur, even in the absence of cash or cheques exchanging hands, the state is better positioned to see accurately what an entity owns and owes in economic terms.

But it gets worse. People are being paid for work not done. Cheques for work done are being paid to people who were not responsible for the work. Moneys are being paid into Government departments that are not reaching their intended destination. And so it goes.

Often no explanation is given to the Auditor General for this financial travesty. When an explanation is given it is frequently porous and simply apologetic, and with the promise of enhanced vigilance in the following year.

Often the Auditor General not only highlights inefficiencies, he pinpoints brazen wrongdoing. How many of these are reported to the police? How many are investigated? What is the result of the investigations?

Government is in the process of trimming Public Service fat. Perhaps, the spectre of possible job loss might bring greater efficiencies from those left functioning in certain Government departments.

Perhaps proper procedures will be followed faithfully. Perhaps collection agencies will function better. Perhaps pilfering will cease. Perhaps our union leaders will understand that in addition to initiating strike action and other forms of agitation in the interest of workers, they also have a duty to read these annual reports and impress upon their membership that this is simply not good enough.

There is a major difference between having one of the most educated public services in the world and having one of the best. Politicians seeking votes and union leaders seeking to attract and maintain membership often boast about the latter quality. But if the annual horror story presented to Parliament in black and white by the Auditor General is to be given credence, then we daresay our Public Service workers are not the best but are arguably the brightest and most educated.

It takes brains and intellectual wizardry to survive in the face of this annual mayhem.


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