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Heather Jacobs Matthews: dedicated to truth and country

Heather Jacobs Matthews: put the public’s interests above all (File photograph)

Readers, this week a tribute to my friend, Heather Jacobs Matthews, CA, CFE, former Auditor-General of Bermuda.

Heather served as Auditor-General of our country for the seven years in the aftermath of the turbulent and stressful recession due to the 2008 Subprime global capital markets crash.

She was superbly qualified for this position with the qualifications, and real world working experience, both in private and public business venues. But, one could certainly think – why would anyone want this job, particularly after the disrespectful treatment of the previous Auditor-General? It isn’t the prestige, for sure.

Heather, I do believe felt it was her vocation – not just a job. It required quiet skill, intuitive judgment, sound educational background, experience, character and resolve in putting the interests of the public above all: above ridicule, above vilification, above threats, without fear, or deterrence, but a fierce determination to protect the truth in finance.

The Auditor-General’s financial opinion ultimately determines (by an audit) whether any government is operating transparently, in good faith, with full and complete disclosure in managing the people's money for the good of the people.

With the constant focus on offshore, new anti-money laundering regulations and misconceptions about tax havens, auditor decisions must be sacrosanct. The independent decision-making processes that an auditor undergoes requires tremendous fortitude in the face of adversity and negativity with the absolute conviction that the audited financial statements are correct and complete.

When an auditor certifies (without prejudice) that a public company, a government department, a quango, or full government consolidated position has earned an unqualified opinion, that is pure positive power. It means that that the entity has passed the clean test – the unqualified opinion test, in other words, the Auditor-General Good Government Seal of Approval.

What goes into the audit process?

A whole lot more than counting a bunch of jelly beans!

It is the process of independent outside satisfactory verification of all financial (and related-nonfinancial) transactions involving at a minimum, expenditures, revenue, cash flows, financial commitments, present and future liabilities, management of risk and investment assets and preservation of the country's net worth.

Heather Jacobs Matthews was also Certified Fraud Examiner, one of a small elite global group of 33,000+ who are professionally trained to be cynical, almost obsessed with ferreting out financial fraud – because not everyone possesses the honesty virtue.

In any given organisation regardless of who or what or where it is, fraud compliance officers know that statistically, at least one per cent of internal associates, and related parties may be actively engaged in stealing money, goods, services, favours, and assets while another three to four per cent are thinking about or planning to commit fraud.

Just some of the components of fraud detection study: Varied forms of financial statement fraud including billing schemes, cash larceny, bribery and corruption; legal requirements for fraud prevention within an organisation in discovery of obfuscation of fraud prevention requirements; data investigation techniques utilised during the course of fraud investigation, along with interview and interrogation techniques commonly utilised in fraud examination; and utilisation of forensic accounting, data analysis, and computer forensics to conduct investigations into fraud and corruption.

It is a powerful job.

Positive opinions promote the highest of governance standards.

It requires rationality, imperviousness to criticism, and tremendous balance.

The Auditor-General is not in the business of winning a popularity contest, nor making anyone happy, just because they have been told they aren't doing the right thing.

It is a lonely job.

The Auditor-General carries secrets, confidences, and highly sensitive political and financial information about the operations of a company, or a country's purse, a burden of the position that requires great integrity and reticence.

No one can truly understand what this type of isolation means unless you have experienced the same training and job involvement. Justice Ruth Bader, the only woman on the United States Supreme Court, was said to have stated that "she loved her job with a great passion, but it was a lonely job".

It is a thankless job.

There have to be, or have been times as an auditor, where maintaining constant vigilance and fierce dedication to the truth in all financial matters was completely exhausting. And it takes its toll.

Heather Jacobs Matthews served the people of Bermuda with justice, equanimity, ethical excellence in all avenues of approach, combined with fiduciary professional judgement and full confidence in the law and fairness in upholding the principles of international auditing and accounting.

Heather loved her family, her friends, her profession, her community and country. She cared deeply for individuals working their way towards a better future, often helping out, financially and personally.

And, she had a great sense of humour.

Bermuda made a wise choice for that time and place, although her work on behalf of our country through her personal integrity and ethical standards, deserved to be rewarded far more than we as a country could ever give back to her.

Sadly, she was not able to enjoy the satisfaction of a job so well done – into a full and rewarding retirement.

Dear Heather. We will greatly miss you.

God bless you, my friend.

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Published March 20, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated March 19, 2021 at 3:13 pm)

Heather Jacobs Matthews: dedicated to truth and country

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