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Saturday, Feb 24, 2024

Auditor General hits back! Says ‘conclusions drawn are sound’

Auditor General hits back! Says ‘conclusions drawn are sound’

Amidst criticisms that her recent report on the contracts to EZ Shipping for marine platforms to provide border security during the COVID-19 pandemic is biased and ‘lacking balance’, Auditor General Sonia M. Webster has hit back.

According to Mrs Webster, in a March 3, 2023, statement in which she said she wanted to “address the misinformation” regarding the audit process that has been recently circulating in the public, the audit on the EZ Shipping contracts for marine platforms was performed by gathering documentary evidence of the events and transactions occurring in this scheme across the ministries and departments associated with this project.

‘Interviews were performed’- Auditor General

“In addition, interviews were performed with the heads of Customs and Immigration and with the former Police Commissioner. Interviews were also performed with senior staff who were assigned to work with the platforms.

“Where the mentioned individuals could not be interviewed in person, they provided information via questionnaire. Follow-ups were performed with individuals to ensure clarity and to allow an opportunity for them to provide further information,” Mrs Webster stated.

Report lacked balance- Premier

Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr the Hon Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) had slammed the Auditor General’s Report on COVID-19 Border Security Contracts for Static Marine Platforms for lacking proper research and interviews.

Premier Wheatley, while debating the report at the Third Sitting of the Fifth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly in Road Town on February 21, 2023, said while he respects the office of the Auditor General, one of the biggest flaws with the audit report was that all the relevant parties, including that subject company EZ Shipping Ltd, were never interviewed.

“You do a whole audit on EZ shipping, and you don’t interview EZ Shipping. Madam Speaker, I have a problem with that, that’s not the way you go about doing things,” he said, revealing that the proposal was not unsolicited but rather, the company was approached.

Hon Wheatley added that reference was made to the National Security Council and said members were never interviewed.

Report ‘damning’- Hon Malone

At Large Representative Hon Carvin Malone had questioned the level of balance of the Report.

Speaking at the Third Sitting of the Fifth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly in Road Town on March 2, 2023, Honourable Malone pointed out that the "damning" Report lacks the engagement of the Commissioner of Customs on serious conclusions made by the AG, including that the barge company collected unearned monies.

“Is there a commitment in the Auditor’s work to hear both sides of the story?” Hon Malone asked, as he pointed out that he was not able to find anything in the report on the accused side of the story.

‘Reports should be truthful & balanced’- Opposition Leader

And Opposition Leader and veteran legislator Hon Julian Fraser RA (R3) had expressed concern about what he said was the lack of information in the report from the owners of EZ Shipping and the reputational damage that can be done from such an unbalanced document.

Hon Fraser also suggested that laws should be put in place to determine what is a fair report.

“What is fair, Madam Speaker, is when you write a report it should be balanced. First, it should be truthful and, second, it should be balanced,” Hon Fraser stated.

‘Conclusions drawn are sound’

According to Mrs Webster, in her statement, the audit report was prepared in “draft” form and sent to the Customs and Immigration heads (among others) on November 15, 2022 for their review prior to the report being made final.

She claimed that neither refuted the dates stated in the audit findings on the platforms’ usage.

“I am satisfied that the audit process for this investigation was thorough, and the conclusions drawn are sound. Based on the findings I have recommended that the matter be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and Police for assessment and further action,” Mrs Webster stated.

Was the AG taking instructions?

Meanwhile, residents continue to question the motives of the many one-sided reports from the Auditor General whether she took instructions from the controversial Governor John J. Rankin and the one-man Commissioner Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom.

If that is so, Ms Webster would have violated the Auditor Bill, and it could render her reports illegitimate.

Governor John J. Rankin in his defense said the Auditor General, under the Constitution, is not subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority in the exercise of her functions.

A Report by Auditor General Ms Sonia M. Webster on the COVID-19 Border Security Contracts for Static Marine Platforms [COI R23], has been criticised for lacking proper research and interviews.

It was on March 2, 2023, in the House of Assembly (HoA) that Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) slammed the Report on COVID-19 Border Security Contracts for Static Marine Platforms as biased and one-sided.

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