Accounting Officers Gross Negligence: Says Financial Secretary

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While commenting on the Auditor General’s reports for 2012, and 2013, Financial Secretary, Glenroy Forbes tried earnestly to explain various concerns that were raised and even noted means in which some of the issues would be rectified. However, some of the matters arising seemed so unacceptable that the Financial Secretary was forced to respond stating: “This is gross negligence on the part of Accounting Officers.”

In the 2012 Audit the then Acting Auditor General criticized the practice of carrying forward expenditure which she noted is prohibited under the Public Finance Management Regulations 83.

In noting the practice Davies said that the practice was carried out by departments and ministries who held over invoices and receipts until the subsequent year because they exhausted their expenditure budgets.

She said that for some departments this may run into hundreds of thousands of dollars and explained that the Ministry of Finance routinely facilitates payment of these wrongfully held over charges and in so doing embedded a practice of poor financial management which circumvents legislated procedures.”

Zero Accountability

Both the 2012, and 2013 Auditor General Reports announced that various statutory bodies were not issuing reports to the government for transparency and accountability purposes.

It was explained that the government does not require statutory authorities to produce financials prior to providing financing; therefore, the Auditor General suggested that there is no incentive for these agencies to adopt prudent financial practices “and thus no accountability.”

One of the statutory bodies highlighted for accountability oversight was the Prospect Reef Management Company (PRMC). The Auditor General said: “Self-financing agencies such as the Prospect Reef Management Company which operates without a functioning board and is unable to present any audited financial statements are equally unaccountable and require oversight.”

Nonetheless, Webster said that some other statutory bodies are just as guilty as PRMC: “Of particular concern are agencies that have never undergone any audit review, those that have received disclaimer opinions from their auditors and those that are three or more years delinquent with audits.”

Both reports were forwarded to the Premier this year and at that time it was mentioned that only four statutory boards ventured to submit reports up to 2016. These bodies are – BVI Social Security Board, BVI Tourist Board, National Bank of the Virgin Islands, and Financial Services Commission.

Ministers Favoring Their Districts

Ministers of Government were flagged for meandering outside of their portfolios as it relates to the execution of projects. This concern was raised in both the 2012 and 2013 Auditor General reports.

In the 2013 report it was announced that several instances have been observed where ministerial budgets adopted allow for ministries to undertake work on projects falling outside of their defined portfolios. “This gives the appearance of a ministry that has shifted focus from addressing the needs of the Territory and catering to the needs of an electoral district, where the minister is also the district representative.  This practice needs to be discontinued,” the Auditor General announced.

Examples of ministerial portfolio infringement was provided in the 2012 report where it was announced that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour engaged contractors for work on residents’ homes in the Long Look area which properly falls under the purview of the Ministry of Communications and Works. It was noted this Ministry also infringed on the Ministry of Health and Social Development’s portfolio by undertaking civil works at Spooner’s Estate.

The Premier’s Office, which is charged with coordinating government activities and implementing policies and programmes to promote the territory’s sustainable development executed contracts for retaining walls, school maintenance, and maintaining a basketball court.

Additionally, it was mentioned that the Ministry for Finance which is responsible for developing the government’s economic and fiscal strategy and implanting policies to support good governance awarded several petty contracts for works at the Multipurpose Sports Complex.

Financial Secretary Promises Change

While Financial Secretary Glenroy Forbes accepted the suggestions made by the Auditor General and promised change on other matters he went a step further as it relates to the portfolio infringement concerns.

The Financial Secretary announced: “The Auditor General has alluded to the fact that some ministries are undertaking work outside of the ministries’ portfolios from their respective budgetary appropriations. The Ministry of Finance, most unfortunately has also regressed to this type of behaviour. However, this has ceased forthwith for to continue to do, is tantamount to gross professional misconduct.”

“Simply put when the baseball umpire decides to join in the games as a player, there is no one to say whether the ball is fair or foul,” Forbes added.

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