Walter Blackman – Findings from the 2021 Auditor General’s Report, and Educational Reform
The following submission from Walter Blackman, Actuary and VOB TalK Show Host is a summary of his June 14 ,2022 Brasstacks program – BU blogmaster
There are many national issues simmering on the front burner which are worthy of discussion. Just to identify some of these, we have gun violence, the strategy announced by the Attorney General to combat crime, a test carried out on a male to determine the presence or absence of Monkey pox in Barbados, the need to be on the lookout for counterfeit currency, some disturbing findings from the latest Auditor General’s report for the Fiscal Year ended March 31, 2021, and last, but not least, educational reform.
With respect to the Auditor General’s report, there are some issues raised by the Auditor General which I would like to highlight:
- There is a lack of timely response by Ministries and Departments to requests for information. When responses were provided, they were inadequate. To solve this problem, the Auditor General noted that section 13(5) of the Public Finance Management Act 2019-1 states: “If a person refuses to produce any records or information as requested by the Comptroller General, that person is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000, or imprisonment for 12 months, or both.” He suggested that the legislation should be amended to include the Auditor General.
- There is no Leader of the Opposition, so the post of Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is vacant. There is some uncertainty on how the PAC can function. The Auditor General recommends that one of the “independent” senators be allowed to chair the PAC.
- In his 2019 report, the Auditor General referred to a Special Audit which was conducted on the Barbados Water Authority (BWA). Legal action has now been taken against the office of the Auditor General by a former Chairman of the Board of the BWA. Any discussion on this report must now be placed on hold pending the decision of the courts. The Auditor General recommends that legislation should provide that any document produced in good faith by, or on behalf of, the Auditor General should be privileged information and protected against lawsuits.
- The Treasury Department reported that its receivables increased by $1.238 billion during the year. A great difference exists between amounts reported by the Treasury and the Barbados Revenue Authority.
- A balance of $32.8 million was reported in respect of dishonoured cheques. The names of individuals or entities were not provided for audit inspection.
- $3.9 million in pensions were paid by the Treasury Department in the names of deceased persons. Sometimes, payments were made 10 years or more after death. 34 pensioners, former government workers, were affected. Over the years, the Treasury Department was unable to access the Death Register information.
- BRA recorded $12 million in wire transfers related to taxes paid by taxpayers. However, these wire transfers were not applied to the appropriate taxpayers’ accounts.
- With respect to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), access to the SAP information technology system by former employees was not deactivated. Benefit transactions were processed and approved by the same individual.
- Old-age NIS pensions were generated for persons who were recorded as deceased within the national Death Register. 10 NIS pensioners were affected, and in some cases, payments were made for over 5 months after death.
- Persons no longer employed by BRA still had active credentials and access to the TAMIS application. Some taxpayers had multiple active TAMIS numbers. BRA was not informed of deceased taxpayers.
- Tax refunds payable to taxpayers were reported as $611.9 million. The audit of BRA was characterized by extremely long delays in the provision of information to the auditors and this would have impacted negatively on its timely completion. Cash and banking information was not properly reconciled. This matter has been ongoing for several years. It poses risk of errors, omissions, or acts of fraud being perpetrated and concealed.
- Clearwater Bay Ltd, a government company, made a loan guarantee of $120 million. This loan guarantee was connected to the construction of the proposed Four Seasons -managed Hotels and Villas. The $120 million were originally shown as a receivable but then written off in 2018. The Auditor General holds the view that this $120 million should not have been written off. The Government of Barbados paid $124.3 million to the bank after the loan was called. A check with The Land Registry Department indicates that the property has been conveyed to a private company. There is no evidence of money being paid by the private company.
With respect to educational reform, we are not limiting our analysis and discussion to the 11+ exam. I have my own ideas and vision and you have yours, so let us discuss.
Sandy Kellman has eloquently and repeatedly shown us that our new system of education must expose all of our children to assessments and tests at an early age in order to detect learning challenges and disabilities. Those young children with learning challenges should receive adequate remedial treatment as early as possible. Funds from the education budget will be allocated for this purpose, and jobs will be created.
Primary school students will be encouraged to develop their talents in art, the performing arts, music, technology, sports, English, Mathematics, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Metrics will be used in all of these areas, and teaching and coaching jobs will be created to prepare students for a vastly expanded 11+ exam.
Talents surfacing at the primary level will be further developed at the secondary school level with teachers, coaches, musicians, artists, singers, playwrights, poets, writers, and religious ministers all playing a critical and pivotal role. Many jobs are waiting to be created. We are going to need the experience and the wisdom of the John Goddards, the Ralph Jemmotts, and others to help guide us forward.
CXC, CAPE, and SAT exams will be taken by secondary school students. High SAT scores will enable our secondary school students to attend polytechnics and universities in the USA where their marketable skills and talents will undergo the last stage of development. After that, the brilliance and talents of a young Barbadian population will be unleashed upon the rest of the world.
The overall objective of this new education policy is to generate foreign exchange earnings for Barbados. At present, we are on the wrong course. We need to find a new direction. As a people, we need to pivot the Barbadian economy around a new axis.