By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Deputy Prime Minister yesterday said the Government could have saved Bahamian taxpayers millions of dollars if it had an effective internal audit programme.
K Peter Turnquest, addressing a Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) and Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) seminar, stressed the need to strengthen this function.
He added that an effective internal audit programme, and commitment by the Government to follow through on its recommendations, could have prevented significant losses. Mr Turnquest, who is also minister of finance, also said the Auditor General's department needed strengthening from both a staffing and capacity standpoint.
"Our internal audit functions need strengthening. It has been overlooked," the Deputy Prime Minister. "That is something we are focusing on, and want to ensure that we have the right people and right number of people.
"If the Government had an effective internal audit programme, and the willingness and commitment to follow the recommendations made, we would have saved millions over the last couple of years."
Turning to the economy and fiscal measures, Mr Turnquest said the Bahamas' current rate of GDP growth "won't do". "The average over the last decade, when we take the peaks and valleys out, is 1 per cent. It won't do," he reaffirmed.
Mr Turnquest said the Government was also aiming to move the Bahamas from the bottom third and into the top half of the World Bank's 'ease of doing business' rankings. "I do not accept that we are any slower or less aggressive than anyone else in the region," said Mr Turnquest.
Underscoring the need for expenditure controls and 'fiscal rules', Mr Turnquest said all the revenue gained from Value-Added Tax's (VAT) introduction will evaporate due to an increase in government spending.
"Programmes were implemented that didn't have the necessary controls in place, nor did they have well-defined missions, resulting in runaway spending," said Mr Turnquest.
He added that the Minnis administration was committed to introducing legislation for 'fiscal rules' before the next Budget cycle. Mr Turnquest said the rules could include capping debt-to-GDP, targeting the level of concessions given to foreign direct investment (FDI), and also domestic investment, as a percentage of GDP.
"We want to look at wages as a percentage of GDP to ensure we put in some guidelines to help build-in the kind of discipline we need to arrest this debt slide we have, and bring it down eventually as the economy expands," said Mr Turnquest.