Auditor to Government: get to grips with debt

  • Serious concerns: Heather Thomas, the Auditor-General

    Serious concerns: Heather Thomas, the Auditor-General

The accountability process for government is “not functioning well”, says the independent auditor of public-sector financial statements.

In the Auditor-General’s report for the financial year ended March 31, 2018, Heather Thomas said she was concerned over issues including a lack of supporting documentation and numerous public-sector organisations more than one year behind with their accounts. And she urged the Government to introduce effective long-term plans to deal with deficits and debt, as well as unfunded pension liabilities.

Ms Thomas said: “In my view, Government needs to be clear about how its goals and priorities will be affected by fewer resources and needs to ensure that the reduced resources are aligned in a way that maximises their effectiveness and has the least impact on the quality of its service delivery.

“Each year of inaction exacerbates the problems. The problems are serious. Government should make getting to grips with the debt and the deficit its highest priority.”

The Auditor-General’s report was tabled in the House of Assembly today.

Ms Thomas completed an audit of financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2017, which, she said, “present fairly, in all material aspects, the financial position of the Consolidated Fund”.

She added: “However, out of the 64 audits or reviews of annual financial statements of government-controlled and other organisations, funds, parish councils and aided schools’ capitation accounts that we completed during the year, 24 resulted in qualified opinions or disclaimers of opinion.”

Explaining the significance of these opinions in layman’s terms, Ms Thomas said: “In a general sense, they mean that all is not well and that, typically, sufficient, appropriate documentary support for amounts recorded in the financial statements is not available.”

She added: “The number of qualified or disclaimed audit opinions, coupled with the fact that as at March 31, 2018 there were 40 organisations falling under my mandate that were at least one year behind with their financial statements (with a total of 133 sets of financial statements in arrears), is of great concern to me and, I suggest, should be to legislators and the people of Bermuda; the accountability process for Government is not functioning well.”

In matters of special importance addressed in her report, Ms Thomas said the Government was “making decisions without knowing the combined financial position of all the organisations that make up the Government entity”.

She added that there were “no effective, comprehensive long-term plans for reducing the annual and accumulated deficits or the associated debt, the unfunded liabilities of its major pension plans or the size of taxpayer indebtedness, all of which continue to grow unsustainably.

“Consequently, the resources available to carry out Government programmes effectively are predictably being impacted by increasing debt-servicing costs.”

A response from the Ministry of Finance is included in the report. It states that the deficit had fallen every year from 2013/14 and that S&P, the credit rating agency, had affirmed Bermuda’s long-term sovereign credit rating at A+ in April 2018, raising the outlook to positive from stable, citing economic growth and the Government’s “prudent fiscal policy”.

Ms Thomas repeated her previous call for the House of Assembly and the public to be provided with analysis to help them better understand the Government’s financial condition at the time when Consolidated Fund statements are published.

A copy of the Auditor-General’s report is attached to this webpage under the title of Related Media

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