No Taxation Without Accountability! It’s Time To Come Clean On The Public Accounts- Lewis

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

The Gaston Browne-led Administration is taxing our people out of existence. And he has imposed new taxes and tax increases, without being accountable to you, the taxpayers.

The Gaston-led Administration continues to disrespect the Director of Audit and the Public Accounts Committee. This director and committee are responsible for reviewing the accounts of 28 government agencies and statutory bodies, and holding the government to account for its management of the country’s finances and operations.

Auditing public accounts in a timely manner is critical to ensuring that your tax dollars are effectively spent. However, up-to-date audited reports from government bodies continue to be withheld from the Public Accounts Committee. And what little information is shared is often below recognized financial auditing standards.

Up-to-date audits would have presented the government with opportunities for realizing savings and eliminating waste, thereby negating any argument for new taxes and tax hikes.

It is therefore wicked and unconscionable for the Gaston Browne Administration to have wantonly attacked our people’s pockets, without first demanding accurate financial information from all government bodies (through the Public Accounts Committee).

Further, the delayed audits mean that the Browne Administration has been making reckless and baseless economic projections, without the benefit of accurate financial information on Government’s performance.

At present, we have too many unanswered questions about:

– National Housing, which former ABLP MP Lennox Weston said was “burning money”

– Barbuda relief funds

– NAMCO, currently a financial black hole

– Social Security

– Medical Benefits

The last Financial Audit Report laid before the Parliament was that for the year 2020, and it’s findings were shocking.

On page 5 of the 2020 Financial Audit Report, the Director of Audit states:

“The evaluation of internal controls showed that in many cases policies and regulations were not disseminated to the relevant individuals, resulting in non-compliance with the laws and guidelines.”

“The collection of Revenue and Revenue reporting continue to be areas of high risk. Our sample showed a difference of $1,407,837 between the actual collections reported by the revenue departments and the amount reported in the statement from the Office of the Accountant General.”

“In addition, Special Warrants for the financial year 2020 amounted to $162,228,073.91, however, this was not approved by the House by way of Supplementary Appropriation Act, as stipulated by the Finance Administration Act, 2006 section 27 (b) and 30.”

Most alarmingly, the Director concluded:

“These results along with our other findings, contributed to the opinion given by this office. We did NOT find that the audit evidence present fairly the financial position of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for the financial year ended 31st December, 2020.”

In other words, the Director of Audit found that the information presented to him was too unreliable to determine the true state of Government finances, as of 31st December, 2020.

This is clearly an untenable situation.

I call on the Government to treat the Public Accounts Committee with respect, and to provide the needed resources to the Director of Audit, his team, and all relevant bodies who are behind on submitting their audited financials.

It is imperative that all outstanding audits be completed in the shortest possible time, to allow for an accurate assessment of Government’s financial health.

Further, clear timelines should be communicated to the People’s elected Representatives on when outstanding audits will be completed and submitted, for scrutiny and for the compilation of the final Financial Audit Report, which is already 4 years late.

Richard S. Lewis MP

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