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#BTEditorial – Ministers, cut the argy-bargy on the Auditor General’s Report

In the game of governance, where the pitch of democracy stretches long and the wickets of accountability ought to be clear and unobstructed, the Auditor General is doubtless the umpire. As citizens of the republic, we are all players on this field, and it is crucial that we understand and respect the role of the Auditor General, the ultimate arbiter of financial accountability, whose position is enshrined like bedrock in the Constitution.

Every year, the Auditor General stands behind the crease, armed with a powerful magnifying glass to scrutinise the government’s financial records. The Audit Office’s mission is simple, yet vital: to ensure that the rules of the game, in this case, the financial regulations and accounting practices as set down by the Financial Administration and Audit Act, are followed meticulously. The Auditor General assesses whether every run and every wicket adheres to the established standards. And just like in the game of glorious uncertainties, these decisions must be accepted with the grace and humility befitting any good sportsperson.

In recent days, we have seen a concerning trend among government ministers. Instead of accepting the Auditor General’s findings with the equanimity of a batsman walking off after being given out, they have resorted to knee-jerk contradiction that borders on criticism.

This is just not cricket. As keen as the ministers may be to “clear the air” or “set the record straight”, the effect of such behaviour does a disservice to the democratic principles we hold dear, akin to questioning an umpire’s decision with needless argy-bargy.

Much as members of the administration are keen on details, we are even more insistent on the principle. It is essential to remember that the Auditor General’s Office operates independently, much like the match officials who do their duty without fear or favour, affection or ill will. The objective is not to obstruct the government’s progress but to ensure that the rules of financial management are followed rigorously. These findings are not blithe guesses; they are based on extensive examination and meticulous review of financial records – or the absence of records and agreements – no less than the umpire’s decisions are based on a thorough observation of the game.

In a stable democratic nation like Barbados, where the rule of law prevails, we must uphold the principle that no one is above accountability. When ministers openly contradict or appear to question the Auditor General’s findings, it sends a message that financial accountability is a matter of convenience rather than an essential component of responsible governance.

Instead of taking a chirping with an adversarial stance, we encourage ministers to adopt a more circumspect approach. When the Auditor General highlights shoddy accounting practices or breaches of financial rules, it is an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. Genuine issues with accuracy need to be taken up directly and internally with the Auditor General. We are certain that the good steward of the public purse that he is will adroitly raise the finger on any discrepancies in his own reporting – or school an errant minister privately on the finer points of public accounting if need be.

Our cricket tradition should serve our ministers in good stead: accepting findings of fact with grace and committing to address the issues raised is a demonstration of maturity and dedication to the principles of good governance.

In the world of cricket, West Indian players great and small are known universally for their sportsmanship and respect for the game’s rules. Similarly, our government ministers in this particular political citadel of the West Indies will be judged not only on their policies and projects but also by their commitment to accountability. They would do well to remember that in the grand game of governance, the Auditor General is the ultimate umpire, and the spirit of fair play must prevail.

Citizens all have a stake in this game. In ensuring that our democracy remains stable and strong, and our government is accountable to the people it serves, no other public message than that of embracing the Auditor General’s report will do. The report should be taken in the same noble spirit this faithful officer of the republic intended it – as an opportunity for sober reflection and earnest improvement. For all our sakes.

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