OBA: Govt keeping public in the dark

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  • Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards says Government does not want the Auditor General to find out about its finances.

    Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards says Government does not want the Auditor General to find out about its finances.

Government is obstructing the Auditor General from doing her job as it doesn’t want people to find out how it’s handling the public purse, the Opposition claimed last night.

Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards suggested the Audit Committee is trying to stop Heather Matthews publishing embarrassing information about Parish Council finances in the run-up to the general election.

Mrs Matthews had written to Speaker Stanley Lowe saying she was unable to make her reports public because the Committee, which must review her documents before she submits them, had failed to get a quorum at a recent meeting.

Premier Paula Cox, an ex-officio member of the Committee, argues the Auditor acted prematurely and says the it will conclude its work as quickly as possible.

Junior Finance Minister David Burt last night said Mr Richards was trying to manufacture a political controversy and was lowering the One Bermuda Alliance’s credibility by putting forward a ridiculous conspiracy theory.

In his statement, Mr Richards said the Committee’s failure to function throughout 2011 amounts to political obstruction and described Mrs Matthews’ letter as a cry for help.

He said: “The Auditor General’s complaint that a Government Audit Committee is preventing her from reporting to the public should be a concern for any Bermudian who wants open, transparent, accountable Government.

“The Audit Committee has been in existence since January 1 this year, but has yet to review the Auditor General’s report, meaning she is unable to make it public.

“The Committee’s lack of action on the report amounts to political obstruction.

“It is difficult not to see the failure to meet over the course of the year on the Auditor General’s report as political obstruction; and you can fill in the blanks why: the Government does not want the public to learn any more about its handling of the public purse in the lead-up to an election.

“In order for the public to have an understanding of how its money is being handled by their Government, they need truthful information, which is what the Auditor General’s mandate requires her to provide.

“But for this to happen, the apparatus of accountability must work. In this case, Audit Committee has thrown a wrench into the works and the public is kept in the dark because of it.”

Mr Lowe read out Mrs Matthews’ letter in the House of Assembly last Friday, honouring her request to bring the matter to the attention of MPs.

Ms Cox replied by releasing a statement describing the Auditor’s move as “very odd” as she had not first consulted the chair of the Committee, who would have explained he’s confident the audit reports can be concluded quickly.

Mr Richards continued: “The Premier’s attack on the Auditor General for appealing to the Speaker for help indicates she is more concerned with the standing of her Government than public truth, a classic example of not putting Bermuda first.

“Despite the Premier’s many statements about strengthening the rules of governance to end ‘business as usual’, nothing has really changed.

“Her criticism of the Auditor General for going outside the system to break the logjam created by the Audit Committee should tell you enough about the Premier’s commitment to better governance.

“The Government can operate in a manner that allows the sunshine of public scrutiny to shine on its handling of the public purse or it can shut down the release of any information, as it appears to have done in this instance.

“The One Bermuda Alliance is fully committed to a programme of Government reforms that will guarantee the free-flow of information.”

Senator Burt said in a statement: “The latest attempt by the Shadow Minister of Finance to manufacture a political controversy and claim the Government is attempting to hide accounts from the public is disappointing.

“While the OBA is prepared to be reckless with the Country’s financial reputation with their conspiracy theories, these ridiculous claims lower their own credibility when dealing with the important issues facing Bermuda.

“The PLP Government has continuously been committed to transparency, and today the PLP Government will take another step forward in this direction.

“The Opposition can continue to release farcical political statements as it searches for political relevance, however the public knows that this Government is committed to transparency and good governance.”

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Published Dec 12, 2011 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 12, 2011 at 8:50 am)

OBA: Govt keeping public in the dark

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