Opposition MP St. Clair Leacock is urging that something be done about the seven-year backlog in the audited reports of public accounts in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The audits are intended, among other things, to ensure that the government manages the nation’s finances as the law prescribes and as Parliament approves.
Leacock said that the most recent audit report is for the year 2013.
Clearly, there are people in this Parliament, who know nothing of that 2013 period. If we follow that trend, it will be seven years from now we’ll know the outcomes of this current Appropriation Bill exercise,” Leacock said shortly after lawmakers approved an EC$1.26 billion budget for 2020.
The opposition lawmaker said it appears to be “common sense” that the government “ought to give some kind of instruction to the Audit Department to fast forward while catching up.
“So perhaps we’re at least two or three behind time, so that public account reports are within the life of the Parliament that is in progress. If we do not do that, our Parliament will be continually trying to do examinations of prior periods of which many present Parliamentarians would have no experience.”
Leacock suggested, for example, that auditors work on the 2017 accounts while trying to catch up on the period between 2013 and 2017.
“But it seems to me that the Audit Department has … be empowered and facilitated to bring the accountability to be within the life of the serving Parliament and not retroactively.”
In response to the lawmaker’s comments, House Speaker Jomo Thomas said that based on the constitution the government cannot instruct the director of audit.
“You can implore…,” Thomas said.
“I don’t know what the mechanism is but I know there is something that’s called common sense and a will.”
I’m only talking law, sir,” Thomas responded.
“I’m through, Mr. Speaker. I’ve made my point,” Leacock said.
In addressing the lawmaker’s concern, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that with the passage of the budget, the number of employees at the office of the Director of Audit has increased from 37 to 41.
The office will now have a second Deputy Director of Audit and a financial audit unit.
“It is a matter of concern to me that there is such tardiness in the production of the reports of the Office of the Director of Audit,” the prime minister said.
Also, for yet another time, Leacock expressed concern about the functioning of the Public Accounts Committee, whose members were also appointed last week, as, is done after each budget.
The committee, which reviews the Director of Audit reports, has not met for the year and at the last attempt to convene a meeting, the government members stonewalled the proceeding saying that Parliament has never approved the rules.
“… we must go beyond the formality and the ceremonial appointment of this Public Accounts Committee.”
He said that members of the PAC should consider setting up a subcommittee within the next three months to finalise the rules under which this committee would function “so that it does, in fact, function and report properly to the Director of Audit”.
Regarding this, Gonsalves suggested that the PAC function “as per the functioning of any select committee”.
He, however, added that the government will seek, within the first half of the year, to have drafted a particular bill for the Public Accounts Committee “and to make whatever regulations there are under the act which is passed rather than doing it the other way around…
“But I wouldn’t expect that on a bill of that nature, the draftspersons will deliver it maybe within a six month period. … but there’s nothing to stop the Public Accounts Committee from meeting, even on the 2013 accounts, because there are general issues of policy which could arise. But of course, the leader of the opposition has to summon [a meeting of the PAC],” the prime minister said.