A Call To Action For Parliamentarians
Based On An Assessment Of The Auditor General’s Department & Its Reporting Impact
Why an Assessment of the Impact of AG Reports?
Greater accountability is critical for good governance and improved economic growth. Jamaica has a number of mechanisms, policies and regulations to facilitate transparency and accountability as well as to provide oversight. These have not been as effective as expected. Understanding why this is so is important for knowing how to rectify the situation.
The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition working in partnership with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition is carrying out a series of governance focused research beginning with an examination of the impact of Auditor General findings and recommendations over the past 6 years.
The research was undertaken against the background of decades long, public cries of concern for the lack of accountability, repeated reports of waste and public perception of corruption in various public bodies. As coalitions of civil society groups, both the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition desired a fuller understanding of Jamaica’s accountability environment and if and how the public can strengthen the work of the Auditor General. Shedding further light on the auditor general’s findings and the state of governance as well as building understanding of the accountability framework in order to better use it were main goals of the research.
“This is not a political statement, but everybody thinks that taxpayer’s money is free money. It’s a culture that has to change” - Dr. Peter Phillips, PAC Chair ( October 11, 2016 )
How The Research was Done
The research examined 41 audit reports over a six-year period (2010/2011 – 2015/2016) to identify the state of breaches and compliance of key entities. Using the Access to Information Act, twenty-two government institutions were asked to produce documents to support corrective measures taken after the Auditor General’s reports which had identified breaches. The breaches were categorized as follows: Noncompliance with government rules and policies (in particular procurement), human resource administration and demonstrable poor governance decisions.
Only 9 institutions responded. The information provided by those 9 helped to give an indication of the follow up done re the Auditor General’s reports. Interviews were also conducted with representatives of the different institutions that form a part of the Government’s accountability framework, and a desk review was done of other jurisdictions’ best practices. (Please click here for the detailed report).
There Are A Litany of Woes but Little Consequence
The Auditor Generals’ reports are a litany of various breaches. Waste, inefficiency and gross non-compliance are not confined to any particular sector or certain public institutions, rather they are pervasive and are committed through the length and breadth of government. The costs are staggering. For example, in just three years 2009/10 – 2011/12 total losses amounted to J$6, 292, 093, 184.
Accountability is Limited
- 9 or 41% - Of 22 Ministries, Departments and/or agencies of government responded when sent ATI requests for information on actions taken with respect to AG findings and to implement AG recommendations
- 13 or 59% - of 21 MDAs failed to respond to ATI requests.
- Several Offenders –Ministry of Labour & Social Security, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education stand out quantitatively and qualitatively for the frequency, nature and level of the breaches 5 of 8 accountability bodies have the power to sanction but there is little evidence of sanctions being applied – The eight bodies are Auditor General (AG), Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Financial Secretary/Ministry of Finance, Permanent Secretaries, CEOs, Boards, Public Services Commission, Public Accountability Inspectorate and Cabinet. Sanctions are available ranging from repayment of monies squandered (surcharge), fines, suspension without pay, withholding of salary increases, reduction in rank and dismissal. There was little evidence to support that these sanctions are being actively used to encourage judicious use of government assets.
- 5 – the number of Public Accounts Committee meetings held in 2015/16 period. Previous year’s show low meeting rate as well.
- 0 Parliamentary discussion – Aside from the deliberations of the PAC there is no record of Parliament debating the AG findings and recommendations nor recommendations of the PAC for the research period 2010 – 2015. Similarly, the post Parliamentary discussions should also be conveyed to Cabinet and appropriate.
- Limited sharing of the findings of the Auditor General’s reports with other ‘watchdog agencies’ of government. The Auditor General is limited by law in its reporting relationships among agencies with compatible mandates. Despite many procurement breaches etc there is no formal mechanism for the Office of the Contractor General, the Office of the Services Commission or the Revenue Protection Division to automatically receive such reports.
- There is no mechanism to better hold the Financial Secretary to account should he/she fail to act under the provisions of the law to sanction public servants who are in breach of government rules, guidelines and policies.
- There is a formal follow-up mechanism at the AuGD however in light of the level of breaches there is need for additional resources to ensure responsiveness to the recommendations and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The Public Accountability Inspectorate (PAI) could be tasked with this responsibility.
CALL TO ACTION
Some key actions that Parliamentarians can undertake to make significant change:
- Enact legislation specific to the Auditor General’s Department. Separating the responsibilities of the Auditor General from the FAA Act would further reinforce the AG's independence from the government’s financial and administrative operations.
- Review the Public Bodies Management Accountability Act (PBMA). Correct the ambiguities that exist in the Act that leave uncertainty about who should initiate sanctions among other amendments.
- Amend the Standing Orders of Parliament to convene additional sittings of the Parliament (as done during peak parliamentary periods) to treat with the backlog of tabled PAC recommendations.
- Establish an online database that records the breach and the remedial measures taken (or not) by the delinquent entities.
- Amend Parliament's Standing Orders to have Ministers and Ministers of State appear before PAC when their offices implicated in AG reports of maladministration. This will ensure the widening the witnesses that can be summoned to the Public Accounts Committee to include Ministers of Government and former government employees.
- Improve the resource base of the Public Accountability Inspectorate of the Ministry of Finance to resume its mandate to shore up the work of the Auditor General in monitoring agencies who have been audited and found to be in breach.