LEADER of Opposition Business in the Senate Peter Bunting has raised concern about the tardiness with which annual reports of Government entities are submitted to Cabinet, with some outstanding more than seven years.
Bunting, who was making his contribution to the debate on the Financial Administration and Audit (Amendment) (No 2) Act, 2023 at Friday’s sitting of the Senate, said the slow pace of submission was unacceptable, considering that public bodies are required to submit annual reports within six months of the financial year end, but such reports are still outstanding years later.
“I checked the website of the Cabinet Office, which shows you the dates of the reports that last went to Cabinet, and this is as of October 2nd, and when you look at entities like the Jamaica Urban Transit Company, which controls billions of dollars and lose billions of dollars every year, we see that the last report to Cabinet is for 2017/18. That’s five years behind, and this is not an agency that has ceased operations and maybe just winding down and therefore isn’t being actively managed,” he said.
He noted as well that for the National Works Agency, which spends “tens of billions of dollars”, 2015/16 is the last year for which a report was submitted to Cabinet. Additionally, the last report from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management was for 2015/2016.
“This is not suggesting a well-managed operation,” Bunting said. “I don’t think this has to be a political issue or a partisan issue. By any standards of good governance, this is just unacceptable. We wouldn’t accept it in our private companies… and I don’t think we should accept it here. And whatever mechanisms we put in place, legislation-wise or structurally, until we start holding the directors, the chairmen, the chief executive officers accountable, then we’re not going to get improvements,” he said.
Bunting stressed that because agencies are so critical to the performance of Government and to delivering service to the people of Jamaica, “I think we must do better”.
“We cannot, as a Parliament which is charged constitutionally with oversight of the executive, accept this type of performance,” he said.
He argued that one would not make an issue of somebody who is a few months behind for one reason or the other, “but when we’re talking seven, eight years behind, this is just absolutely unacceptable”.
He suggested that the problem could be tackled with the reappointment of boards as most of them go to the Cabinet for review.
“I think that when you are reappointing persons who have presided over this situation — which everyone would agree is unacceptable — for extended periods of time, then I think the responsibility then comes to the Cabinet to say ‘No, we’re not going to keep reappointing boards and directors that cannot maintain minimum standards of governance’,” he said.
Government Senator Don Wehby agreed with Bunting, saying that he was 100 per cent correct that in the private sector it is unheard of for companies to have accounts five years behind.
“Timely and accurate reporting is the basis of good governance. One thing that I see, however, is that we need to ask ourselves and understand why, because this has been a perennial problem for decades, in terms of government accounts being extremely late and five, six years is really unheard of,” he said.
Wehby recommended that the Internal Audit Directorate (IAD) in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service do a comprehensive review of why these accounts are late.
“We have been picking up in the private sector recently that the audit companies in Jamaica are being stretched because of lack of resources. And when I ask the question, believe it or not it’s a big debate, that we have been having a significant amount of migration, especially to Canada, of qualified accountants so they are even struggling in terms of keeping up with the quantity of work being done. I’m not saying that is the reason, but we need to look at why,” he said.
In response to Bunting, Leader of Government Business Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said she believes in good governance and the need for it to deliver better results, whether at the corporate or government level.
“Your observations are shared and embraced on this side and it’s part of the work that is at play. The fact is that far too many statutory entities have accounts outstanding and they have been across administrations. I recall when we, in this Administration, were able to finally welcome the National Solid Waste Management Authority bringing its accounts up to date, which had been out across two administrations prior,” she said.
The Senate approved the Bill.