Auditor General: Premier ‘ill-informed’

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  • Office of the Auditor General(Photo by Akil Simmons). January 3,2012

    Office of the Auditor General(Photo by Akil Simmons). January 3,2012

  • Auditor General

    Auditor General


The Audit Committee: A backgrounder

The Audit Committee appointed on January 1, 2011 was:
Ronald Simmons (chair)
Pamela Greyson (deputy chair)
Kirk Davis
Larry Mussenden
Ottiwell Simmons
Raymond Jones
On July 1, Ronald Simmons was replaced as chair by Raymond Medeiros due to a conflict of interest.

The Audit Committee is required under Section 11 of the Audit Act 1990 to review, study and scrutinise every Annual Report of the Auditor General on the work of the Office of the Auditor General and the Government’s management of public finances before it is delivered to the House of Assembly for tabling.
Details in the reports include whether proper controls are in place to ensure monies have been appropriately spent and accounted for and assets have been adequately safeguarded.

Auditor General Heather Matthews yesterday accused Premier Paula Cox of misleading the public by playing down the failings of a key committee.

Ms Matthews revealed last month she was unable to publish her Annual Report for the years for 2008/09 and 2009/10 because the Audit Committee had not performed its duties in 2011.

Yesterday, the auditor issued a strongly-worded statement dismantling a number of claims Ms Cox had put forward in response.

She also expressed major concern that the Premier had contacted the Governor over her decision to report the matter to House of Assembly Speaker Stanley Lowe.

Ms Matthews said conflicts of interest within the Committee, which meant it couldn’t function properly throughout the calendar year, were more serious than the Premier made out.

She also questioned why Ms Cox, who is also Finance Minister, had not attended a key meeting which, in accordance with the Audit Act, required the attendance of five members and the Minister of Finance.

And she said Ms Cox showed she was “obviously ill-informed” about the law when she criticised the auditor for raising concerns to Mr Lowe.

Ms Matthews did however confirm that her letter to the Premier in June led to the removal of the then chair and the appointment of a new chair on July 1.

In December, Ms Matthews contacted the Speaker to say she was legally unable to file her reports because the Audit Committee had failed to meet.

The One Bermuda Alliance claims the Audit Committee deliberately underperformed to stop Ms Matthews publishing embarrassing financial information.

Ms Cox responded to the auditor’s initial claims by saying it was “very odd” for her to write “prematurely” to the Speaker without reference to the chair of the Committee.

Yesterday, Ms Matthews described those remarks as “well off base”.

She told this newspaper: “The Premier was obviously ill-informed as the legislation (the Audit Act 1990) requires the Auditor General to inform the Speaker of the House, and to give reasons, when the annual report will be delayed beyond the November 30 deadline date.

“This is a legislated procedure, not something that is done on a whim. This is a procedure which I have carried out for the past three years.

“There is no requirement and neither should there be a requirement for the Auditor General to refer the matter to the chair of the Audit Committee or anyone else other than the Speaker of the House.”

The auditor’s letter was made public when Mr Lowe read it to the House on Friday, December 9.

Ms Matthews said yesterday: “What the Speaker does with that correspondence is outside of the Auditor General’s jurisdiction.”

Ms Cox’s statement, issued later on December 9, conceded there was a conflict of interest because the chair of the Committee appointed on January 1, 2011, was associated with the accounting firm doing preparation work on the financial statements of Parish Councils.

Ms Matthews countered: “The Premier did not provide full disclosure in this regard.

“There were a significant number of instances in relation to the incumbent chair, not only in respect of the Parish Councils but to other entities audited by the Office of the Auditor General which were identified in my June 2011 letter.

“The Premier’s comment that there are no other issues of conflict is also misleading.

“A subsequent conflict with another member of the Committee was identified by the newly appointed chair, however this matter is yet to be resolved.

“It is important to note that the Committee chair and I enjoy an excellent working relationship and he has worked tirelessly to resolve these matters.”

At least five members plus the Minister of Finance, an ex officio member, must attend Audit Committee meetings, according to the Audit Act.

Ms Matthews says the chair has attempted to convene an initial meeting of the full Committee on two occasions since his appointment on July 1, 2011.

The first didn’t take place due to conflicting engagements of members. It was rescheduled, with every member except one agreeing to attend on Thursday, October 20.

But Ms Matthews said: “Only two members, including the chair, attended the meeting.

“This meeting was called by the chair to review the Report of the Auditor General on the Work of the Office of the Auditor General and on the Accounts of the Government of Bermuda for the Financial Years April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009 and April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010.

“This document, which had been circulated to every member before the meeting, represents the primary work of the Office of the Auditor General and is the primary reason why the Audit Committee exists.

“Surely the Act anticipates that the Minister of Finance would be in attendance at this important meeting when the Financial Report on the Accounts of the Government of Bermuda is presented to the Committee, and before it is delivered to the House of Assembly.”

Responding in December, Ms Cox had said she’d contacted the chair of the Committee and Governor Sir Richard Gozney regarding Ms Matthews’ decision to write to the Speaker.

Ms Matthews said yesterday: “This is of major concern to the Auditor General.

“The Audit Act makes it very clear about the independence of the Auditor General and the fact that she is not subject to the control or direction of any other person or authority in the conduct of her work.”

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Published Jan 4, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 4, 2012 at 8:47 am)

Auditor General: Premier ‘ill-informed’

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