Youth ministry getting financial reports ready
Oliver Watt, Guest Columnist
Through reporting in your newspaper, and elsewhere in the media, the public has become aware that right across government, many departments and agencies are in varying degrees of arrears in the submission of audited financial statements. This is a longstanding problem that is a result of a number of internal and external challenges that are currently being addressed.
The Ministry of Finance and Planning has set a deadline of December 2015 for all government agencies to bring the status of their audited financial statements up to date.
The op-ed contribution 'Public Accounts: Hanna's minister gets failing grade', carried in your edition of Wednesday, November 5, 2014, contains incorrect information that we must correct and assure the public that the agencies of the Ministry of Youth and Culture have been in the process of working through a schedule to bring the submission of annual reports with audited financial statements up to date.
Government entities are required to submit their annual financial statements for audit by the Auditor General's Department within four months after the end of each financial year in preparation for tabling in Parliament. In the face of the resource challenges, the Auditor General's Department sometimes gives permission to entities, if they have funds available, to hire private-sector auditing firms using the GoJ procurement process. This is a very expensive option, which has generally not been available to entities under the Ministry of Youth and Culture.
The ministry's plan to eliminate the backlog will require the use of auditing firms, as well as the resources of the Auditor General's Department, which has reported that it has "increased the staff complement of the Financial Statement Audit Unit" as at the beginning of 2013 "from 12 to 27 persons", with the aim of increasing "the number of financial statements audited and certified within the financial year".
The ministry, including its leadership, takes the matter of accountability and the prudent management of public monies very seriously and has been taking steps to repair the breaches in the submission of audited financial statements. It is unfortunate that the piece carried in your paper on November 5, 2014 opined that the leadership of the ministry "appear[ed] uninterested in accountability" without first asking what was being done to repair the breaches that you have identified.
The ministry is also concerned about a false attribution to the Honourable Minister in the said piece, which stated, "Sadly, the minister, Lisa Hanna, reports that the latest four audited statements submitted to Parliament ... ." For the record, the minister did not give a statement or provide a report on the matter.
Also, in the interest of accuracy, we should point out that the number of entities under the Ministry of Youth and Culture that are required to submit audited financial statements to Parliament was overstated as 14, but is, in fact, seven, as follows:
1. Institute of Jamaica
2. National Library of Jamaica
3. Jamaica National Heritage Trust
4. Jamaica Cultural Development Commission
5. Creative Production and Training Centre
6. Child Development Agency
7. National Youth Service.
The National Gallery of Jamaica, Liberty Hall and African Caribbean Institute/Jamaica Memory Bank are divisions of the Institute of Jamaica and do not report separately. Similarly, the National Centre for Youth Development is currently a division of the Ministry of Youth and Culture. The Youth Development Project is just that - a project.
The ministry wishes to assure the public that it is working to ensure that it meets the deadline of December 2015 for the presentation of outstanding audited financial statements to the representatives of the people of Jamaica.