IT’S been some time since we shared with our readers the contents of the annual report of the Director of Audit on the activities of the government of St Lucia, and this may be construed as a lapse on our part considering the importance of this document and the picture it helps paint of the way in which the people’s taxes are being spent.
There was a time when such reports could be released as many as five or six years late but these days are no more and the Audit office ought to be complimented for providing reports that are now more current. In fact, the latest report covers the year 2013-14 .
But these reports of the Director of Audit are usually quite disturbing in content highlighting as they do some of the gross practices that take place in the public service where use of public funds is concerned. Even more disturbing is the fact that these reports which may highlight such issues as unprofessional conduct, fraud and different levels of corruption, abuse of authority, misuse of state property etc. etc. are tabled in the parliament, as required by law, and are hardly ever debated.
It is another example of the callous manner in which politicians of both our major parties and employees of the state carry out their duties and responsibilities. It does not matter whether we are talking about Ministries, foreign diplomatic missions, health centres or day care centres, the story is the same: the indifference of public officials at all levels to carrying out their duties satisfactorily becomes more alarming year by year. Even where the Director of Audit points out errors, lapses, wrong doings or weaknesses in internal control systems and recommends remedial action, these are ignored most of the time.
Consider this passage from the report in question in relation to one of our consulates: “We completed the audit for the financial years ended March 31, 2011 to March 31, 2013. This audit showed that none of the issues which were raised during the previous audits were addressed. In fact, the situation at the Consulate has evolved into a severely chronic one. The incidence of non-compliance with the government’s operating policies and regulations exacerbated and resulted in an almost nonexistent system of internal control”.
At another mission, the Director of Audit reported on what was labeled as fraud in the sale of St Lucia’s passports and this is revealing, since it appears that the fascination with our passports has not waned any. The older ones among us would recall that this started way back in the early 1980s.
The report: “Our audit revealed that passport revenue at the end of the financial year was not remitted to the Ministry of External Affairs for three financial years. Consequently, the funds were not paid into the consolidated fund. There was poor internal control over the collection of revenue and consequently not all passport revenue was accounted for. There was fraudulent activity at the Mission involving the collection of passport revenue.”
But who reins in these Embassy or Consulate personnel? No one, apparently.
There is also an account of an Ambassador denying the auditors access to verify furniture and equipment purchased with taxpayers’ money for an apartment on the grounds of fear that her privacy would be invaded, a clear case of obstruction of the Director’s rights under the Constitution.
For nearly 40 years, successive prime ministers have lamented the abuse of government vehicles. Remedies and solutions have been advanced and implemented, still the practice continues. In fact, the Director reports that despite attempting to get information from the Ministries and government departments and then the Transport Division of the Ministry of Infrastructure, she was still unable to determine the size of the government’s vehicle fleet, a situation the Director described as “disturbing”.
The report also highlights another disturbing trend where public servants blatantly ignore established practices, like in the purchasing of office furniture, equipment and supplies and do their own thing resulting in poor quality supplies being purchased and subsequent wastage because they deteriorated and had to be replaced.
We hear a lot of talk about accountability in the public service but that’s all it is. No one brings the renegades to heel and so public funds continue to be stolen and wasted away with impunity.