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Ultimate protector of our country’s finances

Vital role: the Auditor-General’s oversight supports, verifies, and provides the independent integrity that Bermuda’s financial position to the global business world is credible and authentic

Law and order are the bedrock of modern society. However, when we regard a civilised democracy, the first thought that should come to mind is what this much-overused political phrase implies: a free press, a progressive government, officials elected by the free choice of its citizens, right of citizens to free discourse, a strong legal guardian of the justice system and an independent fiduciary for financial accountability.

We so tend to take these freedoms for granted. Have you ever thought what we would do if we no longer had them? Ask those who live under a dictatorship what it feels like — that is, if you can even contact them.

Within any free society, the most prominent positions are the leader (premier, president, prime minister), the finance minister, the attorney-general and the Auditor-general. Ordinary folk expect these four individuals to perform honestly and competently at the highest levels. That is, a leader who is fearless in face of all adversity; a finance minister who is a tight controller of the public purse; the attorney general, the backstop for protection of citizen rights, and enforcer of the legal system against the criminally-minded; and the Auditor-general, in my opinion the most important of them all, the fierce protector of the nation’s financial reputation along with a massive responsibility to act as a public “watchdog” for the citizens of a country.

Checks, balances and verifiable truths in information

It has been said that the world’s most valuable commodity is credible information.

No matter which country the auditors general, or controllers, operate within (and AGs are omnipresent in countries the world over), their roles are not without travails. Their virtually thankless tasks never receive the attribution that is so highly deserved. They are constantly exposed to hostile criticism, dismissed as unnecessary, vilified for doing the right thing, subject to accusations of bias, often undermined by special interests, recipients of negative aspersions focused on them for simply carrying out their explicit mission to serve the people under their governmental mandate — that is the people have a right to know.

How anyone would even want to take on this excruciatingly exhausting, personal commitment is beyond me.

A little over six months ago, the Governor of Bermuda presented our country with a new Auditor-General, namely Bermudian Heather Thomas. She succeeded Heather Jacobs Matthews, who shepherded our fiscal reporting to the world during five challenging years of the worst recession Bermuda has experienced.

Mrs Matthews doggedly overrode tough hurdles to find the confirmable, verifiable financial truths regarding our government financial statements, even though seriously impeded by legal constraints to “follow the money to its ultimate source without fear or favour.”

Now, Ms Thomas, a powerhouse in her own right, is following the exemplary legacy mission of her predecessors, Larry Dennis and Mrs Matthews, has her own deep allegiances to Bermuda. Her father, Walter Stevens, and her mother, Paulette, were well known dedicated Bermudian public servants. Mr Stevens taught at Sandys Secondary for many years, while Mrs Stevens managed the Warwick Post Office.

Education was considered a highly prized virtue in her family. It is not by chance that our new Auditor-General graduated from The Berkeley Institute (respice finem); attended Bermuda College and completed her university education at St Francis Xavier with a bachelor’s of business administration. Ms Thomas returned to her beloved Bermuda to specialise in public accounting at Ernst & Young where she successfully navigated the extraordinarily difficult United States’ certified public accountant licensing exams and designation (1997). She then added to her 25-year expertise by obtaining both the certified fraud examiner and chartered global management accountant designations as well.

In the ensuing years, our new Auditor-General became a focused global careerist appropriately qualified in public and private audit assurance, further broadening her international financial experience while employed in various public and private roles in telecom, media, and banking in the US, Mexico, and Hong Kong.

In 2009, she accepted a serious calling from Bermuda to establish the Department of Internal Audit. Her mandate to provide a structure of accountability within the Bermuda Government civil service also included promoting a serious professional environment to encourage continuing education and upward mobility within staff. Under her mentorship, five aspiring accountants achieved US professional certifications, a commendable achievement for all of these careerist accountants while performing under the difficult circumstances of a foreign jurisdiction.

Our new Auditor-General is the ultimate protector of our country’s finances. She is charged with doing the right thing. Her oversight supports, verifies, and provides the independent integrity that our country’s financial position to the global business world is credible and authentic.

Never underestimate the global power of the Auditor-general’s independent opinion on financial statements. The alternative, a governmental system without a strong Auditor-general role is a system run amok, heading for fiscal disaster at a minimum, or financial anarchy at worst.

Ms Thomas in accepting her new role at the pinnacle of her public service career, stated her present mission. She said: “I am privileged to be a part of this team and look forward to the journey of providing impartial, independent public sector audit and related value-added services.

“Governments have a responsibility to enact legislation, formulate and implement policy, and deliver products and services to their citizens. The decisions made and actions taken in fulfilling these ambitions should be undertaken in the public interest.

“Complete, accurate and timely financial information is critical for the Government of Bermuda to make effective, financially sound decisions.

“I believe by providing accurate and complete information on expenditures and all revenues which becomes due, will go a long way in demonstrating accountability and stewardship over our government resources and assets. I strongly believe this should be one of the highest priorities for the Government of Bermuda.”

Congratulations Ms Thomas, we welcome you and wish you the very best.

Next week. We discuss our new Auditor-General’s forward planning, her roles (yes, there is more than one), her challenges, and her responsibilities for overseeing and verifying complex financial information in the 21st Century.

Martha Harris Myron CPA CFP JSM: Masters of Law — international tax and financial services. Pondstraddler Life, financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders with multinational families and international connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com