Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips, has called for greater vigilance on the part of officers charged with protecting and accounting for public funds.
Dr. Phillips, who was speaking at an audit committee workshop hosted on May 31 by the government's Audit Commission at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, insisted that accounting officers and similar personnel “do more to get to the root of the problem when there are legitimate questions, or lack of clarity" on accounting matters.
He said that it is not enough to ensure that proper procedures are carried out, “on the face of things”, but that “it is going to require that when suspicions arise, that the audit committees, the accountable officers, the accounting officers, do more…go to the heart of the problem”
He acknowledged that this type of tenacity requires courage, but assured that accounting officers have the full support of the Ministry of Finance and the administration.
Dr. Phillips was speaking against the background of what he argued is the need for public officers to take ownership of the “standard of governance”. He said that in the drive to reduce the country’s debt burden, the Government has had to cut spending, but noted that even with these constraints Jamaicans must get value for every dollar spent. “That is where you come in,” he told the workshop participants.
The Finance Minister highlighted the slew of agencies, measures, and legislation that have been instituted over the years to ensure integrity and accountability, but noted that despite this, there is still a perception that there is wide-spread misuse of public funds.
"There is enough evidence to substantiate this belief…what it means is that we have to ensure that the structures and the laws that are put in place actually do work. This will mean, among other things, that there has to be a set of functioning audit committees," he stated.
He commended the work of the Audit Commission and the agencies and ministries that have established audit committees, noting that this is now a requirement across the public sector. He urged those bodies that do not yet have committees, to put these in place "as a matter of urgency".
The workshop include presentations from Auditor General, Pamela Munroe-Ellis; President, Institute of Internal Auditors, David Hall; Principal Director, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, Shawn Grey; and Partner in charge of Enterprise Risk Management and Internal Audit Services at Price WaterhouseCoopers, Jamaica, Bruce Scott.
The audit committees advise on: practices and procedures which will promote efficiency and quality service for the department; the extent to which the objects of the department are being achieved and; and the adequacy, efficiency and effectiveness of the accounting and internal control structures and systems.
They also investigate and advise the commission on reports from special audits and examinations of departments as necessary; review internal audit charter and make recommendations to the officer in charge of internal audit; ensure that the department’s internal audit is conducted in accordance with established standards and requirements; review department’s audit reports, analyse audit issues and evaluate adequacy of recommendations; review and advise accounting officer on annual audit plans, budgets and schedules to ensure proper audit coverage; and request investigation of audit-related matters as deemed necessary.
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Senior Reporter