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posted 15 Oct 2019, 09:15 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 15 Oct 2019, 09:24 ]
Image result for tobago david walkerOver the years I have done many media interviews discussing mostly matters of the economy and finance. I most enjoy doing interviews alongside people who hold a different opinion to myself on whatever we might be discussing. I regard it as a wonderful opportunity to test the validity of my arguments and assumptions. I often come away with a better grasp of the subject matter than that which I arrived with.

It was therefore a new experience for me to have to cope with someone who expressed views that bore no relation to reality but who was being treated during the interview with deference and respect. Are there no boundaries as to what claims a guest can make on a public show? Is every utterance no matter how damaging to be treated with the same respect as honourable and fact based arguments?

I was incensed by a claim made by Ancil Dennis, Assistant Secretary, Office of the Chief Secretary, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) during a post budget interview. His
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Ancil Dennis
claim was in response to criticism of the THA for not having received a clean audit in more than a dozen years. His argument is ludicrous in the extreme.

In his world, the failure to obtain clean audit reports over all those years is not in any way a reflection on the performance of the THA. No, in his telling, the failure resides at the door of the Auditor General's Department. The context here is that the Auditor General is responsible in law for conducting the audit of the THA. Assemblyman Dennis, who reports directly to the Chief Secretary said this with a straight face. I have since learned that he has made this claim previously as reported in the media.

He made other specious, misleading and irrelevant statements along the lines of "there is nothing in the auditor general's report, at least up to 2016, to suggest People's National Movement (PNM) politicians are stealing money from the assembly". This is wrong on so many levels that I have to choose which to highlight.

Firstly, it is not the responsibility of any auditor, except perhaps a forensic auditor to detect corruption as a matter of primary concern. Secondly, there are enough instances of prima facie corruption (Virgin Atlantic cheque credited to unknown recipient and the 430,000 US$ paid to singer D'Angelo who did not perform and has not repaid the sum are just two examples) to support a claim of likely corruption when taken in concert with the lack of clean audits. Most persons on the island do believe that money is being stolen and only one group is in a position to steal from the public purse.

This argument that the lack of clean reports should fall at the door of the Auditor General is outrageous and beyond contempt. We should call it for what it is immediately lest citizens be misled into placing responsibility for THA non-compliance with audit requirements at the feet of the Auditor General. If we let this pass, as happened during my interview, then we should expect the THA to continue to ignore all notions of financial accountability for another dozen years.

At best this is a very costly version of the classic excuse "the dog ate my homework" being presented to us by Mr. Dennis and his ilk. Being the creative people that they are, they did not let it end there. Their ire is now directed at the teacher who marks the student down for claiming that the dog ate the homework. In Mr. Dennis' world he says that the teacher is at fault for giving him a failing grade because the teacher should not reasonably expect to receive the homework for the obvious reason that the dog had eaten it.

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Mr. Dennis claims that it is simply a matter of missing documents at the heart of the failure to obtain clean audits. That somehow becomes the responsibility of the Auditor General in his mind. He is adamant that the (to him) trivial matter of missing documents should not result in any blame falling on the THA. He states clearly that the THA will not be accepting any such blame as they could not now be expected to find those documents.

Mr. Dennis should be told that it is the statutory responsibility of the THA to ensure the existence and safe keeping of all the records necessary for the conduct of the annual audit. He and his colleagues must learn that they have a fiduciary responsibility to citizens and that one of the main ways in which that is discharged is by the keeping of adequate records and the delivery of financial statements in a satisfactory manner to the Auditor General annually.

Returning to the issue of the interview at which these disgraceful comments were made by Mr. Dennis, I have to express my great disappointment with being denied the opportunity to refute the heinous claims. When the media permits or even facilitates the making of such statements without push back I have to say that the media becomes part of the problem. They fail their audiences when an obvious wrong is allowed to go unchallenged.

I take particular exception to the failure to be given an opportunity to rebut Mr. Dennis' statements on the night. I must do so as most viewers know that I am an accountant of four decades standing. Some may know of my academic and professional career. I was made to appear as if I had no objection to the disgraceful words of Mr. Dennis in what I presume was his official capacity at the office of the Chief Secretary. A viewer could easily come away with the conclusion that I had no objection to the utterly disgraceful attack on the competence of the Auditor General's Department. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So yes, this is personal. I totally reject the basis of their attack on the Auditor General. I go further and state for the umpteenth time that the Auditor General's Department is one of the few gatekeepers that function efficiently in this country. We fail them by not following through on the many disclosures in their annual reports with disciplinary or legal action. Some matters that they raise, with supporting evidence should also logically lead to forensic audits. My position with regard to the Auditor General's Department is clear, and it is diametrically opposed to that of Mr. Dennis and the THA.

Is it not more than a little ironic that the inefficient, incompetent and unaccountable THA should attack the Auditor General's Department for highlighting the THA failures in these areas? On the other hand, you could argue that it makes perfect sense.