The good, the bad, the ugly

Imagine ThatToo often in my academic career I have heard that to study political science is a dead end, and that its value as a discipline has significantly waned. Yet, it is the political scientist, political economist who are often asked to comment on developments, no matter how distant the issue is from the discipline.

Why do I persist? Because I love it. I simply love the knowledge and critical skills the discipline has brought me. Secondly, you may well ask why do I continue to teach and do research in the area, especially my area of competence which is primarily empirical rather than the philosophical which is often regarded as the pinnacle of the discipline.  The answer is: I like doing my bit to correct the misconceptions and address the dearth of knowledge in critical issues of Caribbean development, even if it is from the political angle.

Above all, I simply love the results of my labour with many of my final year students who grace me with their presence and their insightfulness.

I have had the opportunity to open the minds of young and not so young men and women across the Caribbean and beyond to the imperative of reform and to understanding the political environment in which they live and must operate. That is why I remain hopeful of the future.

Helping my students understand these issues, seeing a significant few develop into leaders in their communities, become social science teachers, journalists, parliamentarians, ministers of Government, religious leaders, trade unionists, CEOs, researchers, analysts for multinational corporations, consultants, artists, ambassadors, policy advisors, university lecturers, activists, and so on is deeply rewarding.

But my greatest joy comes when the silent and disinterested majority of the students sit up and listen –– listen carefully to a discussion on the requirement of Government accountability in the management of the financial resources of the citizens. They leave my class a lot better informed of the importance of the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee, for instance.

This week, I turn my attention to financial accountability and the key pillars of the National Integrity System vital for ensuring financial probity envelops Government finances and spending. Indeed, the sub-theme of the annual report of the Office of the Auditor General of Barbados is “strengthening public accountability by providing fair and independent reports”.

The rallying cry for fundamental or significant reform began because I have taken a very clear-eyed assessment of the failings and gaps of the National Integrity System (NIS) in Barbados, when those whose vision is more jaded and tunnelled think otherwise.

In the constitutional tradition of Westminster, Parliament’s “power of the purse” implies Government expenditure must be authorized by legislation, which is central to the ability of Parliament to hold Government to account for such moneys. Once money voted by Parliament in Barbados, for example, has been spent, it must be accounted for, and those accounts must be audited.

Government’s accountability to Parliament for public expenditure is facilitated through the Audit Office and consequently the Auditor General’s Office is a critical link in the accountability process. To say I have the greatest regard for the Auditor General who must work under serious pressure and whose office is understaffed and underappreciated is an understatement.

Indeed, the 2014 Auditor General’s Report notes the serious problem of critical mass of the office, and the additional burden the office of the Auditor General was asked to assume in 2014 with the imposed responsibility of the audit of state enterprises, which were normally audited by private sector entities.

You will find no major criticism on my part and I have no complaints of the work done in Barbados by that office. To them I say kudos and continue unearthing the waste, inefficiencies and mismanagement that mark our system.

Of course, the Auditor General cannot operate without the cooperation of the office of the Accountant General who must ensure Government departments submit their reports in a timely fashion so the Auditor General can undertake the scrutiny of the financial operations of these departments. This is not always forthcoming as the 2014 report of the Auditor General also highlighted.
In his report to Parliament, the Auditor General stated:

“I must draw to Parliament’s attention a glaring shortcoming in the accountability process in Government. For many years the pffice has been highlighting a number of issues of lack of compliance with statutory requirements by state agencies in its annual reports and through other correspondence. However in a number of cases there is little evidence that relevant corrective action has been taken.

“In short, personnel in these agencies are not being held to account for their actions or lack thereof. This can only lead to a further deterioration in standards of good governance in the Public Service.”

It would be interesting to find out whether or not the Government has responded to the serious breaches and other concerns flagged by the audit office since that 2014 report. Unfortunately I did not have the time to verify this. But it would be too pat to merely state that the Auditor General’s Office does some excellent work. After all what kind of reflection would that be?

Lest it be said I really had nothing to offer this week because I will not draw any negative attention to an agency which is doing its best under severe constraints, I will speak broadly to the importance of financial accountability and the requirement of independence of the office of the Auditor General, as well as highlight some of the problems flagged by the reports of the Auditor General on the financial operations of various Government departments.

Section 113 (2) of the Constitution requires the Audit Office to audit the accounts of the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Assembly and all departments and offices of the Government annually. The office therefore certifies the accounts of all Government departments where there is cooperation from the relevant departments and sometimes statutory bodies, and reports to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies which Government has funded from the public purse have used their resources efficiently and effectively.

The independence of the office of the Auditor General is critical in enabling the office to perform its functions properly. Though independence of the office is guaranteed in terms of the discretion afforded to the office to undertake its audits, nonetheless financial independence is also critical. For the activities of any audit institution will inevitably depend, in part,
on the resources available to it.

And again Auditor General Leigh Trotman makes my assessment of the independence of his office quite succinctly and powerfully when he states: “I have however noted in previous reports that the Audit Office should be responsible for the recruitment of its staff. This is one of the few recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission of 1998 that is still outstanding. An audit office should not be relying on an entity it audits for the supply of resources.” (Auditor General’s Report 2014, Page 8.)

Thus the independence of the public sector external auditor is important to his/her ability to perform his/her role in the accountability process.

In terms of concerns raised by the 2014 report, the Auditor General notes:

A loan to Southern Golf in the amount of $2,000,000 on September 25, 2009. No loan agreement was entered into by the parties and no repayments or interest were received from Southern Golf to date. Therefore, there is an increased risk of the funds not being recovered. This matter has been reported on for a number of years but no action has been taken to regularise the situation. (Page 27.)

During the financial year 2004-2005, two amounts representing $4,666,781 were advanced from the Public Enterprise Investment Fund to Needham’s Point Ltd and that Needham Point Holdings Limited was in breach of the terms of the contracts as it had failed to make any payments toward the loan principal. The only payments made were to cover a portion of the interest due . . . . (Page 28.)

A $120,000,000 loan to Clearwater Bay, with little evidence of it being repaid up to 2014.

Payments in excess of $800,000 were made to assistant commissioners, senior superintendents, superintendents, assistant superintendents and inspectors for claims in respect of daily travel from home to office and return during 2013-2014. No written authorizations were provided to support these monthly payments which range from $760 to $1,780 . . . .

Let us not also forget the Gems Project, where the Cabinet loaned as much as $145 million to HRL (the Gems’ parent company) without the benefit of the approval of Parliament, and the constant references to the operations of both the National Housing Commission and the Urban Development Commission.

But I grow tired. Check it out yourself at

In short, whilst there are many aspects of the National Integrity System that are ripe for reform, fortunately this pillar is working remarkable well under the circumstances. In support of the audit process I would therefore lend my voice to the urgings of the Audit Office that the necessary staff to enable
the office to function at the level that the Auditor General demands, is provided with great haste.

There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.

–– Jane Austen in Pride And Prejudice.

(Cynthia Barrow-Giles is a senior lecturer in political science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.)

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