Auditor general faces PAC grilling
With decibel levels increasing sharply, Heroy Clarke on Tuesday insisted that as a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), he had a right to know why Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis did not attend an exit interview of an audit done by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
“Up to now I still can’t hear, I can’t get the answer. Is it personal matters or is it government matters why she was not at the exit?” Clarke, St James Central Member of Parliament, queried.
The auditor general had appeared before the PAC for the first time to answer questions about an audit of her department by the internal audit unit (IAU) of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
While the audit had been done in the past, it was the first time that the findings had been referred to the committee for deliberations.
“It is possible that at that point in time when they had the exit interview, I could not do it with them, but I met with them subsequently to discuss the audit findings and the status with the Appropriation accounts,” Monroe Ellis replied.
With the insistence for a response from some committee members, the auditor general said: “I can’t be forced to provide an answer that I don’t know.” However, the auditor general’s explanation was cut short at least three times by Clarke as she tried to offer an explanation.
“I cannot say specifically why I wasn’t at the exit interview, but I know that if I was not there, it must be some substantive reason. I would have to now go back to this specific day why I was not there ... ,” Monroe Ellis said, but was shut down by another ‘point of order’ from Clarke.
Pressed further to respond to Clarke’s query, the auditor general said that “my answer that I provide for the exit interview is qualified”.
Monroe Ellis said that even though she did not attend the exit meeting, she had a subsequent meeting with the internal auditor in October last year.
Clarke described the auditor general’s remarks as “sideshow to the questions that I am asking”.
He then asked chief internal auditor at the finance ministry, Richard Dillon, whether the auditor general was at the exit meeting. Dillon replied “no”.
But Monroe Ellis said that she has the authority to delegate that responsibility to another officer, which in the instant case was the director of corporate services.
“My absence from the exit interview in no way detracts from the responses that were provided,” she told lawmakers.
St Elizabeth South East MP Frank Witter suggested that Monroe Ellis be allowed to refresh her memory and report at the next sitting why she did not attend both meetings.
Meanwhile, even as she admitted that her department did not have a business continuity plan (BCP) as indicated by an IAU’s audit, Monroe Ellis said that her office had a business continuity strategy.
“What is required now is for that to be pulled together from all the documents that we have and to codify it in one document which we have agreed that we will do so,” the auditor general told members of the PAC.
She said that a sum had been earmarked in the current budget to engage a consultant who could design and codify the business continuity process of the department. It is to be executed in the first quarter of this year.
Dwight Sibblies, member of parliament for Clarendon Northern, took issue with Monroe Ellis’ explanation that her department’s plans and policies were not codified.
“Madam AG, you have managed to confuse me, because plan or strategy, tell us, it is all over the place, meaning you have policy here that may include something else ... ,” said Sibblies.
But the auditor general said that her department was clear on its business continuity strategy and that there was no confusion in how it operated.