Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards [pictured] said the Auditor General’s complaint that a Government audit committee is preventing her from reporting to the public should be a concern for any Bermudian, and the Committee’s lack of action “amounts to political obstruction.”
On Friday [Dec.9] Speaker of the House Stanley Lowe read a letter from Auditor General Heather Matthews which said she has been unable to submit her reports for tabling in the House of Assembly as the Audit Committee has not perform its functions.
Premier and Minister of Finance Paula Cox replied to the letter calling it “very odd.”
In a statement released last night [Dec.11] Mr. Richards said, “The Auditor General’s complaint that a Government audit committee is preventing her from reporting to the public should be a concern for any Bermudian who wants open, transparent, accountable government.
“The Audit Committee has been in existence since January 1st this year, but has yet to review the Auditor General’s report, meaning she is unable to make it public. The Committee’s lack of action on the report amounts to political obstruction.
“The Premier’s attack on the Auditor General for appealing to the Speaker of the House of Assembly for help indicates she is more concerned with the standing of her government than public truth – a classic example of not putting Bermuda first.
Mr Richards continued on to say: “The last meeting of the Audit Committee did not generate a quorum, prompting the Auditor General to say in a letter to Mr. Lowe that she ‘has been unable to submit my reports for tabling in the House of Assembly.’
“The extraordinary letter amounted to a cry for help. The Auditor General said the Audit Committee’s dysfunction placed her in the “untenable position of having to consider acting outside the legislation” in order to report to the people of Bermuda.
“For the record, no Opposition MPs sit on the Audit Committee. It is a completely Government-controlled body, with the Premier sitting as an ex officio member.
“It is difficult not to see the failure to meet over the course of the year on the Auditor General’s report as political obstruction; and you can fill in the blanks why: The Government does not want the public to learn any more about its handling of the public purse in the lead-up to an election.
“In order for the public to have an understanding of how its money is being handled by their government, they need truthful information, which is what the Auditor General’s mandate requires her to provide.
“But for this to happen, the apparatus of accountability must work. In this case, Audit Committee has thrown a wrench into the works and the public is kept in the dark because of it.
“Despite the Premier’s many statements about strengthening the rules of governance to end ‘business as usual’, nothing has really changed.
“Her criticism of the Auditor General for going outside the system to break the logjam created by the Audit Committee should tell you enough about the Premier’s commitment to better governance.
“The Government can operate in a manner that allows the sunshine of public scrutiny to shine on its handling of the public purse or it can shut down the release of any information, as it appears to have done in this instance.
“The One Bermuda Alliance is fully committed to a programme of government reforms that will guarantee the free-flow of information,” concluded Mr. Richards.
Commenting on Mr. Richards’ statement, Junior Minister of Finance Sen. David Burt said, “The latest attempt by the Shadow Minister of Finance to manufacture a political controversy and claim the Government is attempting to hide accounts from the public is disappointing.
“While the OBA is prepared to be reckless with the country’s financial reputation with their conspiracy theories, these ridiculous claims lower their own credibility when dealing with the important issues facing Bermuda.
“The PLP Government has continuously been committed to transparency, and today the PLP Government will take another step forward in this direction.
“The opposition can continue to release farcical political statements as it searches for political relevance, however the public knows that this Government is committed to transparency and good governance.”