Our reputation is at risk, urgent action is needed
U.K. inquiry should look at the handling of our public funds... before it is too late
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 9:24 AM
Every Bermuda resident should take note of the concerns raised by Auditor General Larry Dennis in his latest Annual Report.
We should also take note that without a principled Auditor General, these concerns would likely never reach the public. As it is, if you were to listen only to the government pitch-men and women, you would believe that either nothing is wrong or something is already being done about it. Worse, you would be encouraged to believe ill of the Auditor General.
PLP boosters often attempt to blunt criticisms by pointing a finger at practices of the UBP when it was the government, here is a case where their own past practices need to be fingered. For years while the PLP was in opposition, its members welcomed the Auditor General's reports, applauded his independence and used the information he provided to justifiably call the UBP government to account. Now that it is their own accounting practices and safeguard lapses that are under scrutiny and found wanting, the PLP has resorted to some of the most despicable practices to undermine the credibility of the Auditor General's office and assassinate the character of the office-holder.
It was a despicable act for the PLP government to wait until the Auditor General was off the Island in May 2006, then unceremoniously box up his entire office and move the contents to a smaller space, a space that did not have the minimal telephone or computer connections to allow the office to function. And it was outrageous that in 2007 the Auditor General was arrested for what are now clearly bogus reasons. There's no doubt in my mind that the first of these acts emboldened the perpetrators of the second.
And who is responsible to protect the Auditor General?
The Bermuda Constitution Order reserves for the Governor the power to appoint and dismiss Auditors General. This is proper as it avoids or at least minimises the opportunities for partisan political selection and influence over the Auditor General's function. However, it puts the responsibility for the credibility, protection and inviolability of the office and the officeholder squarely on the shoulders of the Governor.
From the recent report from the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) of the U.K. Parliament, we have learned that former Governor Vereker "...had objected strongly to the Bermuda government at the time [of the Auditor General's arrest]." However, a mere objection, even a strong one, just isn't good enough. There's not much point having a watchdog if you allow those he is watching to muzzle and tie him up.
As the FAC report notes, [para. 429], "... as long as the UK retains ultimate responsibility, and therefore has contingent liabilities, for an Overseas Territory, it must be willing to act on issues of very serious concern..." and, I would add, especially on issues on which the UK has reserved responsibility.
The Auditor General's reports over the years have repeatedly reinforced the need for his oversight. And, instead of seeing a strengthening of fiscal controls, it appears they are being weakened. At the same time, the vigour of the Auditor General's authority and function is being degraded.
The U.K. representative must not wait, as was in the case of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), until corruption and dishonesty among its leaders are so rife and blatant that the reputation of the territory and psyche of the people are collectively damaged.
TCI's Governor has belatedly initiated a wide-ranging and penetrating Commission of Inquiry. I believe there is real and urgent cause for a similar Inquiry in Bermuda. The list of abuses relating to the handling of the Bermuda public's funds is long and growing. It's time for the U.K. to act.