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OBA favours updating the Parliamentary Registrar every four years

The Opposition has called for four-year re-registering to improve the accuracy of the Parliamentary Registrar, and for fixed term elections to be set for every five years.

These recommendations emerged in the continued Budget debate, as the reviews turned to Non-Ministry Departments.

Promising “no editorialising”, Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox gave a breakdown of spending for the Parliamentary Registrar, followed by the Internal Audit Department.

For the Registrar, she noted a 38 percent higher budget allocation, up to $1.43 million, for the coming fiscal year.

Municipal elections coming in May, plus the anticipated general election, account for much of the increasing costs. Voter awareness campaigns and updating of the registry are expected to keep the department busy.

There will be a “media blitz” ahead of municipal elections for Hamilton and St George’s the first such elections to be conducted by the Parliamentary Registrar, Ms Cox noted.

Extra workers, office supplies, and rental and maintenance of buildings and facilities will all be required for upcoming elections.

The funding for the Parliamentary Registrar also saw a $43,000 rise in administration allocation, due mainly to Bermuda’s upcoming hosting of a Hague Convention in May, Ms Cox said. Representatives from the Caribbean, the UK and the US will gather at one of the Island’s hotels to discuss family and child protection law, and commercial and financial law. The meeting, she said, will “bring the world to Bermuda’s doorstep”, and enhance the Island’s business reputation.

The Island is also furthering its use of E-apostilling, Ms Cox said. This is a method of electronically certifying documents for international use under The Hague Convention. The Premier called it an investment that cost “a heck of a lot”, but said it ultimately delivered value for money. E-apostilling is now in a testing phase, but Government hopes to implement it this financial year.

Allocation to the Boundaries Commission is down some 99 percent, to $5,000, in the aftermath of a costly public information campaign on the changing of constituencies’ boundaries.

Meanwhile, the Internal Audit Department, created just two years ago, sees its allocation holding steady for 2012/13: $1.7 million. Its investigations, which include surprise reviews of purchase orders, are expected to increase in the year ahead, Ms Cox said.

The department issued 46 reports during 2011/12, Ms Cox said: 16 compliance reports, four information technology reports, 18 financial reports and eight investigations.

The department has a Memorandum of Understanding signed for 2011/12 with the Auditor General, Ms Cox noted. The two have a strong working relationship.

Salaries are up 11 percent for Internal Audit’s coming fiscal year, with $1.4 million allocated. A new assistant director and senior auditor are expected to be appointed by April.

Shadow Business Development and Tourism Minister

Shawn Crockwell then rose to discuss the mission statement of the Parliamentary Registrar.

“We believe the Registrar is doing an admirable job,” he said. “However, we feel more can be done.”

Voter fraud was a possibility, with election results capable of drastic alteration by even small numbers of people voting in a constituency where they are registered but do not in fact reside, he said.

The yearly re-registration, done away with by the Progressive Labour Party Government, had been an “onerous and unfair” procedure, Mr Crockwell allowed.

But re-registration every four to five years would keep the Register accurate and elections fairer, he said.

This could be achieved in tandem with fixed terms for calling elections, which are currently subject to the “whim and caprice” of politicians, he said.

“We also feel that we should have absentee voting,” Mr Crockwell continued. “I’m not quite sure why Government has not acted upon this.” People overseas should not be excluded, he said.

“It’s not right; it’s not modern. This is a deficiency that we should deal with as soon as possible.”

Shadow Finance Minister

Grant Gibbons next questioned the Premier on Internal Audit Department allocations.

The Department’s creation in February, 2010, which brought Government into the 21st century, parallel with the private sector, Dr Gibbons told the House.

Its role was important, he said, reminding listeners of the Auditor General’s public report in January which spoke of “a complete disregard of the concept of good stewardship of public money”, Dr Gibbons said.

The Internal Audit Department was “the first line of defence”.

Noting that the department reports to an Auditing Committee, Dr Gibbons asked if the two external individuals appointed to the committee could be identified.

If 46 reports were issued by the Internal Audit Department last year, the One Bermuda Alliance MP asked, could the Premier say how many were planned?

Dr Gibbons also asked if there was a plan to ensure a thorough auditing throughout Government within a set number of years.

And he questioned whether there was a year set for a review from the outside of the Internal Audit Department.

Both Dr Gibbons, and Shadow Minister of Transport

Pamela Gordon-Pamplin, also questioned whether the department had sufficient staff, since the latest Budget book showed that in 2011/12, approximately 50 percent of audit reports were completed within 30 days of the completion of fieldwork down on 75 percent in 2010/11.

Rising to reply, Ms Cox said Government would soon announce methods to improve the accuracy of the Parliamentary Registry, but described regular re-registration as “a sledgehammer to the fly” approach.

Keeping track of voters overseas was a matter soon to be addressed as well, the Premier said.

Regarding the Internal Audit Department, Ms Cox called it heartening that the department head notes “a change in the culture and mindset” of public officials regarding the need for controls.

An independent audit for the department in 2013/14 would be finalised by mid-April, she said.

Premier Paula Cox

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Published March 12, 2012 at 10:07 am (Updated March 12, 2012 at 10:08 am)

OBA favours updating the Parliamentary Registrar every four years

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