By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
CABINET ministers responsible for at least six quasi-government institutions and agencies have failed to table audit reports, creating a lapse in the public record that contravenes the law.
An investigation by The Tribune revealed that its been years since an audit report has been tabled in Parliament for institutions like the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA), the Water & Sewage Corporation, the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation, the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation (BMA), the College of the Bahamas and the Hotel Corporation of the Bahamas, according to Parliamentary records.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the institutions haven’t had audits conducted, but it may mean that in some cases the ministers responsible for those institutions haven’t tabled the audits as required.
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe has responsibilty for the Hotel Corporation of the Bahamas, and Health Minister Dr Perry Gomez has the Public Hospitals Authority in his cabinet portfolio.
Yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said he would look into the matter while Dr Gomez referred The Tribune’s questions to Frank Smith, chairman of the PHA Board and audit committee.
“The board really initiates audits,” Dr Gomez said, adding: “I’m not sure it’s overdue.”
In fact, PHA audits for multiple years are long overdue and the PHA Act puts significant responsibility on the minister of health when it comes to issues relating to audits.
When contacted, Herbert Brown, director of PHA, said: “All of the audits (for the past five years) have been done. But I can’t speak to why they haven’t been tabled. The auditors have confirmed that 2015 audits will be ready by June.”
The Hotel Corporation of the Bahamas’ Financial Controller echoed this sentiment.
“We get (the audits) approved by the board and we pass them on to the ministry,” he said. “It’s up to them to actually table them.”
On the other hand, Glenn Lavell, General Manager of the Water & Sewage Corporation, said it is his corporation’s fault that no audit has been tabled since 2011.
“That’s totally our fault,” he said when contacted. “We are changing the format of our annual reports because we are trying to put more information in the reports as to where the company is going. So when someone picks them up, they would have a better idea of how the company is going. The financial statements are completed. We haven’t submitted it yet to the ministry.
Mr Lavell said: “We hope to submit it along with the report for 2012, 2013 and 2014 by July at the latest. This is not the way we would’ve liked it to happen, but that’s the way it has happened.”
Attempts to reach Environment & Housing Minister Kenred Dorsett and National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage to find out why it’s been years since audits have been tabled for the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation (BMC) and the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation were not successful up to press time yesterday.
Records show that financial statements for the BMC were consistently tabled under the former Ingraham Administration, but have not been tabled since.
It’s unclear when was the last time an audit for the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation has been tabled, however.
The Tribune reported last year that the College of the Bahamas’ (COB) failure to conduct audits meant that the institution could not withdraw funds from a more than $30m loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) that was designed to aid in its transition to university.
Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald said recently that the college will be up-to-date with its audits by this summer.
With no Freedom of Information Act in place, the tabling of audit reports is one of the few accountability measures Bahamians can use to independently assess the fiscal performance of government departments and institutions.
Recent reports by Auditor-General Terrance Bastian into the Road Traffic Department and the Department of Social Services have highlighted failure to adhere to regulations in some government institutions, resulting in fraud and loss of revenue.
Mr Bastian has the power to audit government departments and ministries at his own discretion, although he has frequently complained that insufficient funding handicaps his work.
He does not, however, have the power to initiate audits into other types of government related institutions.
Legislation for most of those institutions mandates that the relevant minister hires an auditor every year to audit the agencies and then tables a report about them in Parliament.
As an example, the Water & Sewage Corporation Act reads: “After the end of each financial year as soon as the accounts of the Corporation has been audited, the Corporation shall cause a copy of the statement of account to be transmitted to the minister together with a copy of any report made by the auditors on that statement or on the accounts of the Corporation.
It continues: “The minister shall cause a copy of every such statement and report to be laid on the table of both Houses of Parliament.”