THERE are times when a question is raised by politicians of The Tribune: why do we have to be so critical?
Running the country isn’t easy, they say. Do you know how hard it is to get things done, they ask. We often agree that there are big challenges – cutting the crime rate, trying to get people back into jobs, building the economy.
Then we come to the current farrago over an audit report into possible fraud at the Ministry of Education.
A substantial amount of work by the Auditor General uncovered $450,000 of the public’s money – that’s mine and yours – being spent unethically. The payments were made as honoraria – normally given to staff who perform extra duties – but were made without the proper approvals, without the proper justification letters including costs, clearances and so on. In one instance, one assistant accountant was given 43 such payments totaling $125,505.82 in 44 months. At a time when the government talks about feeling the pinch and needing to keep a close watch on spending, you would think that such a report would be welcomed.
Instead, it sat on a shelf gathering dust.
Three months after it was sent to the clerk of the House, it still hadn’t been tabled. It’s possible MPs didn’t even know the audit existed.
The House Speaker, quoted in today’s paper, goes on to say that one of the problems might have been that the House didn’t have enough copies of the report.
Not enough copies? Is it too out of line to suggest that in this age of digital files the House might invest in that fancy new technology known as a printer? Or why can’t the report be made available as a digital file for MPs to read on their computers, their iPads, their phones?
More than that, on Monday, when asked by The Tribune about the report, Minister of Education Jeff Lloyd said he knew nothing about it.
Let’s row back a little to the time when Mr Lloyd was still campaigning for his seat and on the election trail was railing against the “culture of slackness, dishonesty and corruption” in the political ranks in The Bahamas and insisting that under the FNM “slackness and moral turpitude will not be tolerated”.
Well, if leaving an auditor’s report on the shelf for three months or failing to distribute reports because you can’t find a way to a printer isn’t slackness, we don’t know what is.
Transparency was also a buzzword on that election trail – so here’s a suggestion, let’s be truly transparent.
On the government website is a section for publications, reports and other resources – under the reports section, a single lonely road traffic audit report is the only document added to the section in the whole of last year.
Why can’t we have a system where as soon as that report is delivered from the Auditor General, a note is published to say that it has been received?
Let the public track in real time when reports are received – and how long it takes the government to do anything about them. If there is a gap of months – as with this report – between its arrival and any action, then let the public see that clearly, with every item that the government has to deal with. That’s the way to ensure real transparency, and real accountability.
As for Mr Lloyd, after protesting on Monday that he knew nothing about that report, yesterday he said that it is under “active” investigation.
There’s not a lot that looks very active about this particular piece of government work – so rather than excuses and hasty moves to make up for lost time, how about looking at the whole system to ensure this never happens again?
This isn’t one of those big challenges - it’s just treating the people with the respect they deserve.