Senators pass law allowing external auditing for college
Senators approved legislation which would allow external auditing for the Bermuda College to help the institution maintain international accreditation.
Owen Darrell, the Junior Minister for the Cabinet Office, Education, and Public Works, said the New England Commission of Higher Education had updated its standards, which required bodies to have “sufficient autonomy and control” to qualify.
Mr Darrell said: “The college must show it has autonomy over its operations and must ensure that its audits are completed on time, every time.”
He said the college had historically had some challenges with late audits, noting that in 2003 the Auditor-General declined to audit the college’s accounts until a report on a lease with the Coco Reef hotel, next to the college, was tabled in the House of Assembly.
Mr Darrell said that more recently Covid-19 challenges had left the college needing more time to complete its audit, but that it “did not align with the schedule of the auditor”, and the Auditor-General refused a request for an external auditor to do the work.
He said the incidents had shown the college did not have autonomy over its audits, which raised concerns about the facility’s ability to meet the NECHE standards.
“Without these amendments, the college is at risk of falling behind in its audits,” Mr Darrell added.
“This would put its accreditation standards at risk, which would have negative implications and poor outcomes for Bermudians and our society.”
While the opposition One Bermuda Alliance agreed with the need to uphold the college’s international accreditation, they questioned if the move was necessary and if other Government bodies would follow the same course, noting a recent debate in the House of Assembly when a minister rebuked the Auditor-General for delays in keeping government agencies up to date on their financial standings.
The discussions sparked a response from the Auditor-General, who said the financial statements for a range of Government bodies were in arrears.
Ben Smith, OBA senator, said there was a potential of creating a precedent with the amendments and he understood the Auditor-General was “vehemently opposed” to the change.
He asked if NECHE has specifically requested the change, questioning if a private auditor would have faced the same issues encountered by the Auditor-General in past years.
Mr Darrell said private auditors would have greater flexibility than the Auditor-General, and NECHE said the amendment would address its autonomy concerns.
In response to the idea that other Government bodies may seek to similarly move away from the Auditor-General, Mr Darrell said he could not speak to the future.
He said: “This amendment that we are talking about here today in the Senate is specifically about the Bermuda College and the importance of our people in Bermuda that are seeking degrees or certifications from the Bermuda College.
“I will not and cannot speak to the future of what other Departments might do.”
The Senate yesterday also approved amendments to the Customs Tariff Act which will offer duty relief for the importation of fuel.
The Government said the relief amounted to an estimated $4 million for gas and $2 million for diesel during 2022-23.