Watchdogs’ funding boost praised by Opposition
Opposition MPs have praised Government for increasing funds for investigative bodies like the Ombudsman's and Auditor General's offices.
The two entities were spared from budget cuts that affected many government services.
The Ombudsman's office budget was boosted 16 percent to $826,000 for the 201½012 financial year, while the Office of the Auditor is expected to receive a 23 percent increase, over $4 million, for the next financial year.
The Legislature received a boost of nine percent to nearly $5.4 million, which will allow one new staff position and the ongoing costs of Hansard, which posts political statements online.
During the Budget debate this week, Opposition MP John Barritt said the increase was “money well spent” and that the Island would benefit from the bonus to the Auditor General's office. But he expressed concerns over MPs' salaries increasing on an annual basis.
Finance Minister Paula Cox explained the last salary rise, in April 2009, reflected the cost-of-living increase for the preceeding year. Mr Barritt said the cash boost to the Auditor's office, which is charged with adding credibility to the Government's financial reporting, would allow it time to catch up with necessary reporting.
Minister Without Portfolio Michael Weeks told the House of Assembly on Monday there were 41 audits and three special reports in various stages of completion at the Auditor's office. “The Annual Report of the Auditor General for the years ending 2009 and 2010 should be completed by April 2011.
“There exists a backlog that has not been submitted for audit. However, with the increased staffing approved for 201½012 the Auditor General will be better aligned to eliminate the backlog within two years and ensure the timeliness of audits going forward.”
Transport Minister Terry Lister said the debate was a clear conversation “about the transparency and openness that the Government operates”.
He said this didn't exist in Parliament before. He said the investment was an “indication of Government's willingness and desire to see the audit fully-staffed”.
The MP said the fact that 60 audits were in arrears was a reflection of the need for more staffing. Opposition leader Kim Swan praised Government for taking a comprehensive look at the Non Ministries and for allowing enough time for proper discourse.
“The amount of time that has now been allocated for the Budget, we now have an opportunity to look at some departments that would previously get overlooked in [lieu] of some of the more noticeable departments.”
He said it was important the office of the audit has secure offices that are separate from other buildings so its reports and information could not be breached or compromised.
This is “because of the sensitive information critical to the good governance of this Country is carried out [there]”, he said.
According to Mr Weeks, the increased funds would allow Non Ministries to better carry out their work in the next fiscal year.
He said: “The Office of the Auditor General has an aggressive work plan in place for the next fiscal year. The office will carry out a government-wide risk assessment, inclusive of Information Technology, in conjunction with the Internal Audit Department to identify financial and operational risk of government.
“The office will also finalise all statutory audits for the year ending 31 March 2011 in a timely manner, bring up to date at least 60 of the back-logged audits, complete at least two performance audits and develop a success plan for Bermudian staff.”
Government backbencher Randy Horton said: “I just wanted to speak briefly and reiterate much that has been said before. Paticularly I would like to reiterate this Government's emphasis on openness.
“This Government is as open as any Government has ever been in this Country and it's very clear when you look to those heads that the Government has placed emphasis on having all the people of the Country know and understand what is going on in the government.”