Auditor General, Sonia Webster, has told the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that there needs to be some penalty for public officers who fail to comply with requests for information from her office.
During her testimony this morning, June 28, Webster told the CoI
that public officers who do not provide information when requested may do so as an attempt to protect Government Ministers as they feel more comfortable offending the Auditor General than a Minister of Government.
Webster was asked about her observations in her 2014, 2015, and 2016 reports where she pointed to encountering resistance, which she indicated spans more than one administration.
"It has been a trend, I say of late. It hasn't always been this way, but over the past 10 years coming forward where ministries and departments, but mostly ministries, are resisting providing information that is required for audit," Webster told the CoI
She cited a recent case where a ministry did not provide information and then tried to use the fact that they did not provide the information to delay the issuance of the report.
"I find this completely unsatisfactory and I do intend to make a report to the Governor with respect to that particular case," Webster stated. She said she will also report the matter to the Financial Secretary and Public Service Commission.
"It was a blatant attempt at manipulating the entire process," Webster told the CoI
Counsel to the CoI
, Bilal Rawat asked Webster if she was able to point to reasons for the resistance from public officers.
"Public Servants are concerned about offending their Ministers and in a number of cases, its individuals who are afraid to offend either their Permanent Secretary or Ministers, but ultimately it is the Minister that they are trying to protect or cover. Other times, it seems that the instructions actually come down...I know of a couple of cases where the instructions come from the Ministers to not provide the information," Webster stated.
According to Webster, this occurred, but not within the past five years.
Rawat asked Webster about what can be done about the resistance from public officers.
Webster stated that the Audit Act needs to be amended and a copy of the Act was sent to the former Attorney General and discussions were held with staff of the Attorney General's Office about the amendments.
"The Act needs to be amended, and there needs to be some sort of penalty for want of a better word, for people not complying. Whether there is a surcharge; some sort of disciplinary letter; whether it's more than that - suspension, but there needs to be some sort of penalty when the Permanent Secretary and Department heads fail to comply. It doesn't carry any weight; they can continue to do this," Webster pointed out.