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Thomas calls for action on accounts backlog

The Auditor-General has called on the Government to take action over publicly funded bodies that have failed to release their audited financial statements.

Heather Thomas revealed 29 public authorities were in arrears of more than 100 years of financial statements between them, including the Bermuda Hospitals Board, which was criticised last week for being five years behind in its audited accounts.

Ms Thomas said the lack of audited financial information meant politicians and officials could not make effective decisions on how to spend public money.

She was concerned about the absence of transparency and accountability and noted that in her published reports she “urged Government to take all necessary steps to correct this situation”.

Ms Thomas told The Royal Gazette: “The specific steps needed are as individual as the organisations in arrears.

“There are some organisations struggling, sometimes because of limited capability or capacity to prepare financial statements that comply with financial reporting, in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.

“However, the ministers responsible for organisations in arrears and the respective boards of governance need to ensure that appropriate effort and resource is available to support these organisations.

“While there has been progress with many organisations ... there is still much work to be done.”

Independent senator James Jardine, who highlighted the BHB failings in the Upper House last week, said that the operations of hospitals needed to be scrutinised as Bermuda aimed to cut healthcare costs.

The board provided The Royal Gazette yesterday with unaudited accounts data from 2017 to the third quarter of last year (see separate story) and pledged to release those figures quarterly from now on in light of the delay in publishing audited financials.

Ms Thomas, the island's independent fiscal watchdog, said: “The lack of timely and audited consolidated financial statements is not to be taken lightly.

“Indeed, the requirement for the Bermuda Hospitals Board to produce audited consolidated financial statements on a timely basis is a cornerstone of public accountability and transparency.

“It provides an important opportunity to demonstrate that the public interest is being served and that public money is being well managed.

“Without this information, decision-making is compromised, as legislators and officials cannot make effective and robust decisions regarding the allocation of resources and effective management of the resources at their disposal.”

She acknowledged the BHB had taken steps in addressing its auditing challenges and said financial statements had been finalised for 2015 and 2016, while the 2017 statements were in the final review stages.

But she said: “The usefulness of the consolidated financial statements is impaired if the audited consolidated financial statements are not made available to the board, the legislators and the citizens of Bermuda within a reasonable period.

“The audited consolidated accounts become accounts of historical interest only and assessing accountability diminishes.”

Ms Thomas said that in addition to BHB, there were 28 organisations in arrears of about 117 years of financial statements. “This is unacceptable,” she said.

A BHB spokeswoman said yesterday: “BHB's 2015 annual report has been submitted to the Ministry of Health to start the legislative process. The 2016 financial statements were signed off by the Auditor-General last week. BHB is pleased to note that both fiscal years have received unqualified audits.

“The 2016 financial statements are being presented to the BHB's finance and audit sub-committee this month ... after which the annual report will be laid out with a management report.

“Focus will now be on completing the auditing process for fiscal years 2017 to 2019.”

She said that the board was following its mandated auditing process for the financial statements and would release them once completed.

“Our unaudited financials and where we are in the audit processes are reported every month to the finance and audit sub-committee and then on to the board to ensure transparency and accountability,” added the spokeswoman.

She said: “The board and BHB leadership have discussed how best we can inform the public about the management of BHB finances while we work hard to complete the process of having up-to-date audited financial statements.

“Our main focus is still to complete the auditing process, which is mandated in our Act. However, we will share unaudited financial data for the fiscal years up to 2018-19, given the current delays and commit to sharing it quarterly going forward.

“This information is already shared with staff and with the ministry [of Health], and we hope it will give the community insight into our financial position, although the data is not final until it has been through the full auditing process.”

William Madeiros, the BHB chairman, said: “The board expects BHB to do all that is necessary to be in alignment with its Act in regards to the annual reporting of audited financial statements and hard work is under way to achieve this goal.

“It is premature to comment on the process but we look forward to sharing full audited financials and reports as they are completed.”

A ministry of health spokeswoman said: “The 2014-15 draft annual report was received on February 3 and is in the final stages of completion for tabling at the earliest opportunity.”

She said that it marked a key step in “publishing the next five outstanding annual reports to bring BHB in line with its legislated requirements over the course of the coming fiscal year”.

The ministry spokeswoman added: “The minister has regular meetings with the chair and CEO and is kept appraised of progress towards completion of the outstanding audits.”

The other 28 organisations in arrears are the responsibility of various government ministries.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Finance conceded last night that delays in financial statements had “plagued successive governments”.

She said: “The BHB is making good progress in bringing their accounts up to date. I expect that other relevant government entities will play their part to rectify this problem by bringing all outstanding accounts up to date and delivering them in an auditable state to the Office of the Auditor General. Additionally, in many cases, management accounts have already been prepared.”

She added that “specific measures” addressing impediments in putting out financial statements would be announced in this Friday's Budget statement.

John Rankin, the Governor, said: “I have seen the response from the Auditor-General, of which I am fully supportive, and have no further comment.”

Transparency concerns: Auditor-General Heather Thomas

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Published February 19, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated February 19, 2020 at 6:15 am)

Thomas calls for action on accounts backlog

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