June 13, 2014
We are watching and waiting

Fri, Jun 13, 2014

The last few weeks must have been uncomfortable ones for the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration with the resignation of the Registrar of the High Court following allegations of misappropriation of funds, and the less than favourable reports from the Director of Audit.{{more}}

The public is concerned and is keenly awaiting the outcome of the ongoing investigations. Any right-thinking Vincentian would be, irrespective of political persuasion. These recent allegations of misappropriation of funds and the flouting of rules governing finance regulations are not being made of junior public servants, but of public officers in positions of trust.

In relation to the matter with the former high court registrar, the Prime Minister has said that Director of Audit, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police are “actively seized” of the matter and that the agencies of the government should be allowed to do their work. Hopefully, the agencies of government will not act in the same manner as they did in relation to funds which were misappropriated at the International Airport Development Company.

In February 2012, the Communications Officer of that the organization announced that the company had been defrauded of $63,744 and one person had resigned and another was terminated as a result. Is that all there is to it? Is that how the agencies of government work? That money, which was defrauded from the IADC was money sacrificed by Vincentians and citizens of friendly countries for the completion of the largest capital project in the history of the country! Those suspected of being responsible should be made to answer before a court of law.

We have many examples here of public servants (usually junior) being arrested, charged and brought before the court when irregularities are uncovered at their places of work. Why in some cases and not in others?

Audit reports which point to irregularities and improper procedures in government ministries, departments and consulates are nothing new. But this makes the concerns raised by the Director of Audit no less alarming. The fact that year after year, the recommendations made in audit reports are ignored, points to the scant regard paid to audit queries and reports, by the accounting officers and those in the political directorate. If accounting officers faced the consequences of noncompliance as outlined in the Financial Administration Act, there surely would be improvement in this regard.

It is clear from what the Director of Audit had to say about our New York Consulate that greater care needs to be taken to ensure that our overseas offices are staffed by people who understand public service procedures and the need to be accountable to the taxpayers of this country for public funds.

The government, in trying to counter the audit reports from 2009 and 2010, held up audit reports from 15, 20, 30 years ago, saying things were much worse then. That was a mistake. Yes, it is to the credit of the ULP administration that audits of the overseas offices are done much more frequently now, but what is the value of doing more frequent audits if recommendations made by the auditor general are not implemented and the same poor record keeping, absence of supporting documentation and the failure to comply with finance regulations and other rules governing public sector expenditure continue unabated?

The government’s claims of good governance and having zero tolerance for corruption need to go beyond words. An unambiguous message needs to be sent to those who abuse our trust and those thinking about it that serious consequences will follow.