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Still a host of problems, admits Auditor General

Auditor General Alistair Swarbrick (left) and Audit Manager Martin Ruben

As yesterday’s deadline loomed for government’s latest financial reports, the Auditor General while conceding improvements, said a host of problems remained, led by the reliability of the information provided.

Wednesday marked the deadline for the 2010-2011 reports by central government’s 12 ministries and portfolios and its 25 statutory authorities and government-owned companies such as Cayman Airways and the Cayman Turtle Farm.

While Auditor General Alistair Swarbrick was hopeful the agencies would respond on time, he pointed to his new 22-page progress report, titled “Financial and Performance Reporting”, detailing the difficulty of gaining reliable information from government.

“While there has been more progress since my last report,” he said, referring to a 31 July summary that 12 ministries/portfolios and 14 authorities and companies remained in arrears, “it has been slower than I had hoped. I fully support the government’s more strategic approach to concentrate on the current year’s financial results. However, the delays in clearing the backlog will definitely impact on the government’s capacity to prepare the 2010/11 financial statements and my ability to audit them.”

The 31 July report also found, however, that Mr Swarbrick could certify only 15% of last year’s ministry/portfolio statements and 55% of authority/company accounts as “credible for use by readers”.

Yesterday’s report said Mr Swarbrick had not yet issued an opinion for nine ministry/portfolio financial statements from 2010, but had “disclaimed” one, citing inadequate information — from the Ministry of Financial Services, Tourism and Development — and “qualified” two more, meaning a portion of the report was questionable — from the Judicial Administration and the Portfolio of Legal Affairs.

Additionally, he had not offered an opinion on 14 2009/10 reports by Statutory Authorities and government-owned companies, he said, had “qualified” two more — Cayman Turtle Farm and the Water Authority — and fully approved the balance of nine.

A backlog of unfiled or incomplete reports remains, however, dating, in some cases, to 2004 and 2005. Mr Swarbrick conceded, however, that completing the oldest statements would “be a challenge”.

“You are going to struggle for full accountability and we may have opinions of them as adverse or unreliable, and that is why I support amendments to the Public Management and Finance Law at this stage,” he said, referring to recent legal changes to make accounting easier.

An effort led by Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks to address arrears by the entire public sector had been launched, focusing chiefly, however, on ensuring timely submission of this year’s accounts.

“We have about 60% of them so far and are looking pretty good,” Mr Swarbrick said yesterday, anticipating a 5pm deadline. “This programme has had some good traction.”

Cayman Turtle Farm

He also said he would issue “compliance orders”, seeking unprecedented reports on transfer payments, “high-risk spending” on programmes — such as day care, community activities, scholarships and Premier McKeeva Bush’s now-notorious Nation Building Fund —  that rely on personal judgements made against particular criteria.

“These are not normally included in the financial statements of ministries and portfolios, and are not audited,” Mr Swarbrick said. “They are only part of consolidated financial statements and we have those only for 2004 and 2005.

“We are making good progress on the backlog, though,” he said. “It’s not as quick as I might like, and there will be some ongoing issues, but we’re making progress and will continue to address this over the next couple of years.”


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