EDITORIAL - Demand transparency in audited accounts
Three months ago, this newspaper wrote to Devon Rowe, the financial secretary, and therefore the senior civil servant and top accounting officer in the finance ministry, requesting to know the law or the regulation that prevents government companies and agencies from making public accounts before the information is tabled in Parliament.
We also wanted to know the time set by the Government for state enterprises and quasi-non-governmental organisations (QUANGOs) to, after the end of their financial year, produce audited accounts.
We await Mr Rowe's response. It may be just that it is taking longer than he expected to have an answer formulated and agreed by his boss, the finance minister, Peter Phillips, or that he has forwarded the request to some other ministry or agency for a response, upon which they are yet to act. Perchance, too, that the financial secretary is too overburdened to be cleared of such low-priority stuff, even though the kinds of entities to which we refer cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually and their borrowings and losses built up the bulk of the Government's debt, which is the foundation of the country's financial crisis.
It would be useful, too, to know, although Mr Rowe can claim that it was not specifically asked, what is the time allowed to a ministry between its receipt of an entity's audited accounts and the tabling of those financials in Parliament.
W are reminded of the April letter to Mr Rowe by last Wednesday's latest report by our columnist, A.C. Count, of the difficulty in abstracting financial information from government entities and of the contortions some bureaucrats are willing to perform in their effort to escape the light of transparency.
We, of course, appreciate the courtesy a QUANGO is required to show its parent ministry by passing to it audited accounts before making the information public. If properly managed, this system allows for ministerial review of the information and the formulation of policy positions, which should be, at worst, contemporaneous with the publication of the information.
In any event, in a properly managed enterprise and an engaged parent ministry, there ought to be no time lag, for information should be flowing from the regulator meetings of boards to permanent secretaries, percolating up to their ministers.
But there must be clearly defined reasonable timelines between this process, the tabling of the accounts, and what ought to be a statutory requirement of the governors and the chief executive of the agency to fulfil their fiduciary responsibility to their ultimate shareholders, the taxpayers of Jamaica, by telling them about how well they have managed the enterprise, reflected in its profit-and-loss position.
We presume, for instance, from the huffy tone of the communication by the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission's A. 'Jack' Shirley and the arrogance of the Universal Fund's Hugh Cross that they may have audited accounts for the period subsequent to the fiscal year ended March 2012, but that they are bound to protocol and/or law from releasing them. In some instances, protocol is a convenient hiding hole for poor performers.
If Dr Phillips is serious about public-sector transparency, he should, by law, have QUANGOs adopt the system of listed firms, which had to publish quarterly financial statements and full audited accounts within a prescribed period from the end of their financial year on the pain of penalties.
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