From the Amandala web site:
No complete audit of GOB
accounts for 24 years!
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 9, 2002
Financial Secretary Joseph Waight confirmed today, Thursday, that there has been no complete audit of the Government of Belize accounts since 1978 - 24 years ago! Waight said, however, that Government, for the past year, has had a team of consultants, comprised of past GOB auditors and accountants, which has been trying to make amends for the severe backlog. He also said that Government expects to have a report presented to the National Assembly within the next 4 to 6 months.
The Auditor General's annual report is supposed to be laid before the National Assembly annually. Under Sections 16 and 17 of the Laws of Belize, Chapter 15, Finance and Audit, the Accountant General should, within 6 months of the close of the financial year, sign and submit all financial accounts, and especially a statement of assets and liabilities, to the Auditor General.
He, in turn, should have 90 days to submit his report, along with a certificate of audit, to the Finance Minister, who should lay it before the National Assembly. In the case that the Minister fails to do so, the Auditor General has the authority to present the documents directly to the Speaker of the House. A Public Accounts Committee is supposed to review the Auditor General's report and make recommendations to Government.
In an interview with Amandala on Wednesday, May 8, 2002, Auditor General Orvin Nicholas explained that the reports required to produce the annual report have not been forthcoming from the Accountant General's desk. We attempted to contact Accountant General, Carmen Barrow, for her insight into the matter, but she was unavailable at the time. She has taken over the post only since April of last year.
In August, 1993, Amandala's Russell Vellos wrote an investigative report titled, "1991 GOB accounts due March 1994."
Vellos, in his article, said that the Financial Statements were 15 years behind at that time (since 1978), although ninety per cent of the accounts between 1979 and 1981 (the year of Belize's Independence) had been audited. The former Accountant General, Beatrice "Beadie" Robateau, who is one of the several people on GOB's current investigating team, told the press "of the difficulty of producing statements for years prior to 1986, saying some of the accounts had already been destroyed, having exceeded the 7-year time limit stipulated for Government accounts."
In the final report of the Political Reform Commission, presented to Government in January, 2000, the Committee said, "There is no doubt that the finances of the Government play an extremely important role in the overall governance of a nation. It is therefore an area that requires the closest scrutiny, as it is subject to abuse at all levels of the system."
According to Nicholas, a major concern is the general lack of internal control by Chief Executive Officers, who should ensure that there is no waste or extravagance by public officers. Other concerns expressed by critics of the system are regarding Government contracts issued to private agents, and the management of the Social Security Fund.
We note that while we were conducting our interview with the Auditor General, he was only just then receiving the first of about 12 required reports from the Accountant General for the 1995/1996 financial year, and was still working on the public debt file for 1992.
On a positive note, Waight told Amandala today that Government has, since December, completed the first phase of a project to modernize and improve the accounting system. He said that under the UK-funded project, "Financial Management and Development Project," they have redesigned the accounting process for general ledgers. He said that to date, 80 to 90% of the system has been computerized, which should improve the reporting process.
Waight said that the Wide Area Network system includes a "funds control" feature, effected since April, 2002, the start of the new financial year, that would not allow for spending more than has been approved. In the case that any Government office requires more funds that the approved figure, however, a supplement would be requested, and only authorized personnel would be able to adjust the figures.
"The problem needs to be solved out there," Nicholas said.
We note that the Office of the Auditor General still audits individual Departments and Ministries, and also conducts special audits, such as a 1989-1993 report on the recently discontinued Economic Citizenship program