Two days ago, the Assistant Auditor General, Shiva Sinanan, told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that there are 80 vacancies for auditors in his department.
The Auditor General has the important role of monitoring whether our tax dollars have been used ideally and for the purpose intended.
In Kim Jeppesen’s publication, The Role of Auditing in the Fight Against Corruption, the author writes, “The detection of corruption by auditors is important because the perceived risk of getting caught is an important factor in deterring people from engaging in fraudulent behaviour, such as corruption.
“This is particularly the case for elected politicians, for whom the risk of detection combined with re-election incentives reduces corruption…auditing is considered one of the eight pillars of a national integrity system, which can protect against corruption.”
T&T’s corruption perception index score was 42 points in 2022, making us the third most corrupt country in the Caribbean.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic had lower scores. Barbados scored the highest (64), followed by St Vincent and the Grenadines (59), St Lucia (56) and Dominica (55).
Hence, we have every reason to increase the fight against corruption, and starving the Auditor General of staff is not the way to go.
Since October 17, 2018, we were promised better. Responding to questions from the Opposition during Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee meeting, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said that 50 of the 100 vacancies in the Auditor General’s office would be filled in the next financial year.
Now, five years later, we are still short.
It’s not just the Auditor General‘s department which seems sidelined.
The Integrity Commission’s 2022 annual report states: “The drastic depletion of the budget can be observed by comparing $26 million allocated to the commission in 2015 with the figure of $8.6 million allocated in 2023.
“At present, there are several open positions in the commission which cannot be filled due to lack of funding. This has severely affected the progress of the Investigations Unit in particular. The unit has a total of 44 active investigations dating back to 2013 and has only closed ten as of December 2022, as more human resources is needed to bring closure to matters at hand.
“The commission has been provided with a restricted budget that cannot carry the commission to meet its staffing expenses for the year 2023 and beyond.”
The report quoted the Solicitor General, who said, “The commission shall be provided with adequate staff for the prompt and efficient discharge of its functions under the act.”
Kenneth Mohammed‘s article, Trouble in Paradise: Corruption in the Caribbean has become normalised, which was published in The Guardian’s March 4, issue reads: “The Caribbean is home to some of the wealthiest politicians in the world – yet, the ever-popular posts on social media about the richest or best-paid in the region tend to ignore most of the millionaire and billionaire politicians of Trinidad and Tobago and other islands.
“It is interesting to see the net worth of these politicians, and shocking that some were of average wealth, only becoming millionaires or billionaires since taking office. Meanwhile, the citizens who voted them into power have become poorer, more disempowered, and more disfranchised.
“How did these politicians get so wealthy? I believe some have done it legitimately, as professionals in other fields. Others have profited as politicians, using insider information and receiving contracts through proxies, such as wives, friends, and colleagues, and some through kickbacks and bribes … Corruption in the Caribbean has shown no improvement over the last decade as we seem to be content to have set up shop at the bottom of the CPI.”
Even the service commissions are affected.
These were created to shield the public servant from political victimisation, insulate various institutions from political control and act as a check against corruption.
From 2014 to the present, the service commissions have continuously had their subventions from the Government reduced.
In 2014, they were given a total of $104 million to service all five commissions. In 2022, the budgeted figure was approximately $72 million—a reduction of approximately 31 per cent.
We keep hearing politicians say that these commissions are inefficient and have outlived their usefulness, but with their dwindling budgets, increasing workload, part-time commissioners, and delayed information from the DPA, how are they to succeed?
The UN’s estimate of five per cent of a country’s GDP being lost to corruption, means our earnings of US$500 billion from 1962-2019 suggest US$25 billion benefited the corrupt.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld wrote: “We should not trust democracy without extremely powerful systems of accountability.”
By starving these institutions of funds and staff, it appears we are on the pathway of defunding democracy.