By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Governance reformers yesterday demanded that the public sector be “called out” over its multi-million dollar waste and inefficiency, and warned: “Audits don’t make it go away.”
Robert Myers and Matt Aubry, principals with the Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG), told Tribune Business that the only way to deliver “real change” was the passage of legislation that held senior civil servants and public sector managers truly accountable for the loss of taxpayer dollars.
Speaking after the latest damning audit by the Auditor General’s Office was made public, Mr Myers said the scenario outlined at the National Sports Authority (NSA) was bound to be repeated time and time again unless the government “gets out ahead of it” through legal measures that are actually enforced.
Mr Aubry, meanwhile, said the NSA audit and previous auditor general reports - such as the recent Ministry of Education findings, which said $450,000 was missing - effectively “call out the public sector for wasting lots of taxpayer dollars”.
Arguing that these episodes only “increase public mistrust” of the Bahamian government, Mr Aubry said the latest report “really reinforces calls for serious public sector reform” from ORG and other civil society organisations.
With the public sector likely resistant to efforts to hold it more accountable, he and Mr Myers said the Bahamian people had to drive change and realise that corruption, waste, inefficiency and mismanagement in the public sector was ultimately costing them and their families through higher taxes to fund the Government.
While crediting the Minnis administration for its seeming interest in rooting out public corruption and waste, Mr Myers said: “The question is will they do anything about it and make people accountable.”
He recommended that the Government embrace New Zealand’s lead by passing Bahamian versions of that country’s State Sectors Act and Public Sector Management Act to ensure that civil servants and other public officials faced consequences for their mistakes and actions.
“Until we put accountability in a State Sectors Act, we remain open to the same repeated issues again and again and again. We can’t do the same thing again and again and expect different results. We’ve got to put legislation in place to make the public sector accountable.
“The managers of these ministries, departments, agencies and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are just never held accountable. That has to change if we want to see real change. I understand where the resistance is coming from; the public sector not wanting to be held accountable, but I don’t understand why the administration backs down on that.”
The Auditor General’s NSA audit detailed the all-too-familiar issues with a state-owned enterprise (SOE) - lack of taxpayer “value for money” on funds spent; political interference; inadequate controls; the absence of proper procedures, especially on procurement and contract tendering; poor transparency and accountability; and breaches of both its own Sports Authority Act 2011 as well as the Financial Administration and Audit Act.
Tribune Business revealed how Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the global sports and entertainment giant, was paid $1.2m by taxpayers on the NSA’s behalf “for services that were never performed”- meaning that the Bahamian people gained nothing in return. None of the “10 deliverables” AEG was supposed to perform under its contract were ever fulfilled.
Mr Aubry described the NSA audit as “falling on a pile of things that have given us concern as of late; the lack of deliverables, the lack of procedures, which really reinforces our call for serious government reform”.
He added that initiatives such as the Prime Minister’s Office’s delivery unit, and performance monitoring associated with the public financial management effort, needed to move forward at a more “accelerated” pace.
Mr Aubry said more efficient and widespread use of technology, and clear public procurement rules, were other messages coming from the NSA audit report. “This reinforces why the Public Procurement Bill needs to be enforced, and there needs to be a very transparent effort to the same degree,” he told Tribune Business.
“This is the second instance of this. If you look at the Ministry of Education audit from September, which was tabled earlier this year, it speaks to the fact $450,000 was missing and called very clearly for consequences relating to compliance and lack of procedure.
“We’ve now seen two documents calling out the public sector for wasting lots of taxpayer dollars without being attentive to its charges. Without systems to measure the return on investment, and hold people accountable for deliverables, it increases public mistrust and shows why increases taxes to support the delivery of government services is necessary.”
Mr Myers, meanwhile, said New Zealand had shown the benefits of taking decisive, concrete action to hold the public sector accountable and root out “horrendous” waste and inefficiency in government.
“It’s not going to be any surprise, and shouldn’t be of surprise, to future administrations that come in and can’t get the public sector to do what they want it to do unless the put in legislation,” he told Tribune Business.
“What the hell’s the problem? I get fined $15,000 for not paying VAT, but if someone runs off with $200,000 of taxpayer’s money nothing happens. You’re managing the institution and can’t account for that money, but nothing happens.
“If you are the Government trying to fix that, let’s get ahead of it and put laws in place to cause that to change. It’s not getting the traction because the public sector doesn’t want it to happen, and we’re reliant on the public sector and administration to actually write the laws and regulations.
“Of course they’re going to drag their feet, but the public has to insist that happens if we really want to tackle the problem. It’s not going to go away by audits. You’re just going to have the same thing happen again over a period of time if you don’t put in laws that create accountability. It’s frustrating to see all this stuff, but we’re not getting out ahead of it.”
Mr Myers challenged the Opposition to take the lead by putting forward Bills in parliament should the Government prove unwilling. “If they’re serious about governance and accountability, let them put the legislation forward,” he argued.
“It’s the people that suffer when it isn’t done, as taxes go up to account for all the mismanagement and waste. They waste it, we pay more taxes.”