By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
FINANCE Minister K Peter Turnquest has confirmed the Office of the Auditor General will receive additional resources in the Minnis administration’s upcoming budget.
This will ensure Auditor General Terrence Bastian and his team can more effectively and efficiently perform their jobs, Mr Turnquest told The Tribune yesterday.
In 2017, just moments after the Free National Movement was declared to have defeated the Progressive Liberal Party in a landslide general election victory, then incoming Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told thousands of supporters his government would give the Office of the Auditor General the resources it needed to probe how taxpayer dollars were spent under the Christie administration.
His pledge was solidified by another declaration to allow the law to take its course if there was evidence of “criminality”.
Asked specifically about the prime minister’s nearly two-year-old promise, Mr Turnquest said: “Year on year the office received extra allowance.”
However, he said this was not specific to the prime minister’s comments.
He later confirmed the office would receive additional resources “so that they can perform their jobs effectively and efficiently”.
Mr Bastian admitted to The Tribune a week ago his office did not have sufficient manpower.
He has also suggested to Tribune Business that the government should implement a real-time, integrated financial management system — covering the entire public sector —as a way to boost accountability in the way it manages the people’s money.
Mr Bastian said: “We are definitely understaffed, we could triple our staff today and get more done. But I don’t know if I want to use the word lack of confidence, maybe certain people may have a lack of confidence but my workers don’t have a lack of confidence. We are confident in the work that we do.
“I believe my report speaks for itself.
“I’m not defending the facts, the facts speak for itself.”
These comments came as he defended his office in the face of criticisms levelled by the Official Opposition, sparked by findings of an audit into the operations of the National Sports Authority under the former Christie administration.
Mr Bastian did not directly address accusations levelled by the Progressive Liberal Party and former Sports Minister Dr Danny Johnson, but expressed full confidence in the work conducted by his department.
Acknowledging it was not the first time an audit report has faced criticism in recent years, Mr Bastian said he longs for a time when the work of his department would be viewed impartially as the law intended.
“I try not to make statements that will create issues and tensions,” Mr Bastian said. “That’s why I write the facts. I don’t go no further than that. It’s always when you write it, someone may think it’s a political statement but if it’s a fact then it can’t be political. I write what we find and if we are wrong then I’d be the first person to admit that we were wrong.”
He continued: “Hopefully the day will come when whether it’s the FNM, or the PLP, or the DNA, that these reports will not be taken as political. My job is not to make any political statement. We don’t do that, my job is to be a public trust and let the public know our findings. I don’t write my opinion, I write the facts simple.”
The NSA audit tabled two weeks ago in the House of Assembly covered the operations of the authority from July 2011 to December 2017 and revealed the authority’s financial allocation increased by more than $3.3m during the most recent election fiscal year.
It found that one company received more than $1m in taxpayer funds, but did not complete any of ten deliverables promised to the NSA.
Mr Bastian further highlighted irregularities in the payment of employees, an “unusual” handling of petty cash, and stated the organisation’s accounting
practises had apparent weaknesses and did not fully comply with regulations.
In its wake, Dr Johnson suggested the department did not do a good job, insisting that “every penny” could be accounted for, and further made reference to a “petty, jaundiced, unprincipled, evil and destructive” agenda.