If Emma Hippolyte had never performed another vital national service, still what she did during her unforgettable years as Saint Lucia’s Director of Audit would’ve been enough to warrant national recognition.
True, she had paid dearly for her sense of duty. Admittedly she sued the government that had self-servingly dismissed her for doing her job too well—and was awarded damages—but it was we the people who, as usual, had paid through the nose, not the conniving politicians. Indeed, they got what they wanted, anyway—a perhaps less adventurous audit director—which was all that had mattered to them in the first place!
In her annual reports audit director Emma was never satisfied simply to take refuge behind the cop-out that “a number of accounts could not have been substantially verified . . . we were unable to attest to the accuracy of account balances because some account balances were either not reconciled or inadequately reconciled . . .”
In such cases Emma, a certified fraud expert, always made a point of providing details of her efforts at promoting transparency and accountability at all government departments—and also of whatever impediments had been put in her way. But enough about Emma Hippolyte, save that having beaten the politicians at their corrupt game she finally had decided, perplexingly, to join them!
How depressing to note the distance things had reversed since the audit department’s recalled better days. While the director’s function, as stated in Section 84 of the Constitution, is to provide an independent opinion of the accountant general’s financial statements and to audit and report Saint Lucia’s public accounts—which is to say, “accounts of public bodies, statutory bodies and government companies”—things are not always as they seem, especially in backwater politics.
The Finance Act that the House passed in January 1997 defines accounts of Saint Lucia prepared by the accountant general as “accounts that relate directly to the central government.” Consequently, the director of audit is now concerned only with central government transactions.
Annual financial statements are tabled in parliament and referred to the Public Accounts Committee. PAC is supposed to report to parliament on the results of its examination, together with any recommendations it may have with respect to the financial statements and accompanying audit report.
Government representatives and personnel from the Director of Audit’s office are supposed to attend Public Accounts Committee reviews “to provide testimony and other information requested by the committee.”
Alas, according to the Report of the Director of Audit for the financial year 2011-2012, the committee has not held meetings for several years, despite that the PAC plays “a very important role in the accountability process and therefore must carry out its functions in order to hold accountable those entrusted with the responsibility to spend public monies.”
All of which raises the question: If a constitutional requirement has been consistently ignored, why is it that none of our lawmakers has been made to suffer the consequences—presuming there are consequences?
There’s more: “The Finance (Administration) Act requires annual reports to be prepared, certified and submitted to the Director of Audit within three months of the financial year end. The Audit Act provides for the Director of Audit to submit within three months these accounts to the Minister of Finance, who shall cause the statements to be laid before the House of Assembly. Therefore, the legislation provides for the time frame of no more than six months for the accounts to be laid before parliament. The minister may by direction in writing addressed to the accountant general extend the period within which the accounts may be transmitted and any directions must be laid before parliament at its next meeting.” [My italics]
The audit director, having “substantially completed the audit of the financial years 2003 to 2005” undertook in 2013 to issue it to parliament “under separate cover,” while also reminding parliamentarians that in the audit report for the year 2010/2011 “I highlighted the need for the financial statements of the government to be current for transparency in the Public Financial Management System of Saint Lucia.”
The report contains no clear reasons for the lapses. Neither does it state the concomitant consequences. But then, this is Saint Lucia where the more things change . . .
Now, consider this: “As stated in previous reports, ECCB account 31070103 was omitted from the balance sheet. As of March 31, 2002 this account had a balance of $2,539.10. In our opinion the amount of $24,713,837 disclosed on the balance sheet is fairly presented.”
Here now, the accountant general’s response: “Reconciliation statements were not presented to the Director of Audit for NCB-Banana Levy and Prison Contingency Fund because there was no activity in the accounts for the year. The accountant General’s department will be taking the necessary steps to ensure that the two ECCB accounts are reflected on the balance sheet.”
Under Bank Balances-Sundry Ministries, the director of audit recorded: “ . . . cash in bank (Sundry Ministries) was $29,300,261. This balance represented an increase of $1,827,931 over last year’s balance. Ninety-five percent of the account was not reconciled. Therefore, $27,886,596 of the total amount could not be verified.”
All of that from the Audit Director’s Report for the financial year ended 31 March 2002. More proof of “the culture in Saint Lucia of studied indifference and inattention to the practice, even the concept, of public accountability . . .” that Sir Louis Blom-Cooper had discerned following his 1998 commission of inquiry initiated by the recently elected Kenny Anthony government!
As hard as I’ve searched, I can find nothing in the public accounts for “obligations to the hotel formerly known as Hyatt.” Neither have I discovered a public accountant’s word on Rochamel/Frenwell, let alone related debts still being met by local taxpayers.