Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Auditor general needs top-class staff to avert IMF consequences

Published:Thursday | October 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

The implications of the Auditor General's Department not being able to attract top-class personnel could spell danger for Jamaica's economic programme, which has been agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Pamela Monroe Ellis, the country's auditor general, told The Gleaner yesterday that if she is unable to attract the level of staff that is required to do the review of the Fiscal Policy Paper (FPP), "I would probably not be able to do it".

Said Monroe Ellis: "I cannot do something only to run the risk of coming up with something that does not meet the standards that are expected or arrive at an improper or inappropriate conclusion as a result of it."

The FPP comprises, as stipulated by the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act, the fiscal responsibility statement, macro-economic framework and fiscal management strategy.

Review due in February

The first review of the FPP is due in February 2015, and is a requirement of the IMF agreement.

"I don't have the competences in-shouse," the auditor general said, while adding that one reason a salary component was considered was because the department, like some other government bodies, has not been able to attract a certain calibre of staff because of low salaries.

She said a certain calibre of staff is needed to "respond to the complexities and the evolution of the government process and to keep our audit process up to date and ahead of the game".

Monroe Ellis said she was given permission to employ more personal staff in 2010 for the initial process of the FPP, but has not been able to attract anyone at current salaries.

"You probably will be able to attract someone who is just coming out of the university, but for this kind of review, you will recognise that you need someone who is competing with the best," Monroe Ellis said.

The fiscal rules dictate that the finance minister will only be allowed to deviate from hard-wired fiscal targets if there is a period of public disaster, a severe economic contraction, a public emergency, or a financial-sector crisis.

Debt ceiling

The laws contained in the Financial Administration and Audit Act and the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act make provisions for a public debt ceiling targeted at 60 per cent of GDP by the end of the 2025-26 fiscal year.

It has clearly defined escape clauses, which would allow the suspension of the fiscal rules, with parliamentary approval, for a specified period upon the occurrence of major adverse shocks such as a severe economic contraction.

The role of the auditor general in assessing whether the rules are being followed is paramount. It is for this reason Monroe Ellis wants to be able to attract the best at her department.

She said, because auditors will be criticising the works of others, the staff "must command the respect of those you are criticising and you must have the know how and knowledge to do so".

She added: "Although we have qualified persons here, we need to improve that pool of competence to allow us to do more."