Finance Minister Larry Howai says he remains concerned with the contents of the Auditor General’s report on Trinidad and Tobago’s public accounts for Government’s financial year 2013 (October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2013).
But he wants to assure “the public that an exercise was started toward the end of last year to improve the state of financial reporting in each Ministry”.
The report, dated April 29, 2014, noted that several Government ministries, including the Ministry of Finance, lack documentation to justify multi-million-dollar expenses; there are concerns about overpayments by ministries; lack of documentation to support contracted workers by the State; and lack of proper accounting management by officers in charge of protecting the public purse.
There was also failure in many instances to respond to requests for more expenditure information, the Auditor General’s report stated.
The worst offenders were the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Howai observed that according to the Exchequer and Audit Act, Section 3, Chapter 69:01, the Ministry of Finance does not have oversight over ministries and each ministry of government operates autonomously.
Notwithstanding this, he confirmed that he met with all permanent secretaries to emphasise to them the importance of their role, as the chief accounting officers of their respective ministries, in ensuring compliance with proper accounting procedures.
Howai noted that there were a few instances of non-compliance in the Ministry of Finance and he has already advised the permanent secretary that, although the exceptions were few in number, the goal is to ensure 100 per cent compliance.
“Several permanent secretaries in various ministries have advised that they have already rectified many of the exceptions identified. Specific instances of non-compliance occurred as a result of certain documents being misfiled and not being available at the time of the audit. In a number of instances, the documents to support the transactions have already been located,” the Finance Minister said in a statement issued to the media yesterday.
“Following the last Report in July 2013, priority was placed on ensuring that all ministries of government adhere strictly to proper financial and regulatory policies and practices,” he said.
Howai noted that the issues had been brought to his attention relatively late in the year and, consequently, the improvements being effected may have been too late to make the kind of impact that he would have liked to see in the fiscal year.
However, he is “satisfied” that there has been a general level of improvement when compared to prior years and expects that this process will continue.
Nevertheless, Howai said: “...the report in the Express of Sunday June 1 refers to some specific instances, which it is my intention to investigate fully.”
Opposition MP and head of the Public Accounts Enterprises Committee Colm Imbert deferred comment until he had read the entire report.
He observed, however, that he was concerned about a lot of irregularities in the public accounts which might involve calling in each ministry one by one to account to Parliament.