Editorials

Integrity in government

It has become commonplace for budget debates on the heels of a change of government to feature the calling out of alleged or verified misappropriations of public funds under a previous administration.

During debate on the Davis administration’s 2021/2022 supplementary budget, numerous references were made to public expenditures under the Minnis administration deemed questionable, and by all appearances, the raising of such issues has only just begun.

Bringing to the public’s attention government’s findings regarding the use of public funds last term can be necessary, particularly where courses of action with respect to alleged misappropriation will be taken.

However, if the Davis administration does not follow through early with the introduction and passage of promised fiscal accountability and transparency legislation, it may fall short of demonstrating its own commitment to holding itself to the standard of good governance it has pledged to uphold.

The Minnis administration paid lip service to the passage of new anti-corruption legislation, having tabled its Integrity Commission Bill at the start of its term, only to leave it languishing until the former prime minister had it and all other bills on the House agenda killed when Parliament was prorogued just before its dissolution.

The function of an integrity commission is to work against corruption through the promotion of honesty in governance, and the enforcement of anti-corruption legislation.

Numerous CARICOM countries have established an integrity commission including Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, St. Lucia, Guyana, and Dominica.

Last year, Barbados’ Government Information Service published comments by the country’s attorney general, who lamented that Barbados “had to divert all of its resources to keep the country afloat at a time when government was on the cusp of establishing an Integrity in Public Life Commission”.

In its Speech from the Throne, the Davis administration said, “My government will not tolerate corruption and is committed to introducing effective anti-corruption legislation.”

No timeline has been given for the introduction of this legislation, leaving some observers to question the vigor of the administration’s stated commitment in this regard.

The administration also pledged to amend the Procurement Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, and the Public Financial Management Act to bolster accountability and transparency in public expenditure and financial administration.

A timeline for these amendments has also not yet been indicated, and what the Bahamian people can ill afford is a circumstance where promised legislative actions aimed at holding elected officials and public officers to account for the handling of public funds, become a can kicked craftily down the road of a five-year term.

Beyond these pledges, an elemental way the administration can demonstrate commitment to fiscal responsibility and accountability is in strengthening the Office of the Auditor General – a department that is perpetually underfunded, and lacks the legislative reinforcement necessary to compel action on the auditor’s findings.

Agencies including the Commonwealth and the World Bank provide varying degrees of assistance to countries to facilitate the enhancement of their auditor generals as a key mechanism in combating corruption and government waste.

Since the auditor general’s department is not provided with sufficient funding to secure a desired cadre of auditors, the department is forced to outsource some of its work, and is challenged to meet its mandate of auditing government ministries and departments at least once per year.

The Minnis administration made much ado about sourcing numerous forensic audits, the final price tag of which was never disclosed.

Rather than utilizing public funds for external audits targeting specific ministries or departments – often for political purposes – the nation would be most appropriately served by furnishing the people’s auditor with the requisite resources to fulfill the statutory responsibilities of the office.

Leadership sets the tone for tolerance of corruption and malfeasance, and government members typically take their cue from the prime minister in what they either attempt or eschew while in office.

But it is legislation and equitable enforcement of the same that levels the playing field of accountability for all in government, including the prime minister.

Prioritizing the same sends the message both home and abroad that the administration is serious about ensuring integrity in office is the order of the day.

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