‘A Govt that pays lip service to financial accountability’

By Keith Azopardi, Leader of the Opposition

Over the last few weeks you will have heard a lot about the conclusions of the Principal Auditor’s reports for 2016-2018. These have provided a glimpse into a catalogue of waste and abuse and a Government that is unwilling to provide real transparency and obstructs scrutiny all the time.

We have been warning about waste, abuse and corruption. We have urged more independent scrutiny of Ministers, greater powers of ongoing accountability through a Public Accounts Committee and stronger mechanisms to assist the Principal Auditor. All those things that may not sound glossy or exciting are essential because it’s about the proper use of your money and have been brought into sharp focus by the publication of this latest Principal Auditor’s report.

The outrageous amounts of overtime or other financial abuses by individuals or companies, the disregard of tendering laws, the waste of your money, the lack of supervision or suspect award of Government contracts that have been uncovered are just examples of what has been going on. People will be rightly angered by all this because when you start adding all these issues up we can be talking about a very significant amount of money.

The exchanges of communications where the Government sought to resist giving the Principal Auditor information about which Government-owned companies had received £25 Million and how the money had been used is also just symptomatic of a Government that thinks it can do whatever it wants with the people’s monies and not properly account for it. This all just confirms what we have been complaining of for years and the stone-walling we get in Parliament.

It confirms the desperate need for greater accountability and transparency and the need to stamp out waste, abuse and corruption. Because all those things affect you and your families. Waste and abuse cheats you as a taxpayer. It cheats your families because there is less money to go round; to invest in the things you need or to pay wages.

If someone or some company is abusing the system that is money that is no longer available for persons with disabilities, the sick, children or the elderly. When that happens it is an outrageous abuse. When something like that is tolerated by the Government for whatever reason, because of inefficiency, incompetence or worse still because that individual or entity is close to Government or because Ministers accept those practices then that is a public scandal.

But however scandalous some of these things are; however eye-watering the amounts or however outrageous the abuses this is just the tip of the accountability iceberg and I want to explain why.

We are only hearing of these abuses now because the Principal Auditor has finally been able to publish his reports. But a lot of these things happened 6 years ago. We should not have to wait 5 or 6 years to find out about these things. Timely accountability requires that the Principal Auditor is put in a position where he gets all the information so he can report on public finances much earlier. And that is the fault of the Government.

Under the law the Accountant General has to submit the accounts of the Government to the Principal Auditor within nine months of the close of a financial year. However, the Finance Minister has power to extend time to do so. In these cases Mr Picardo gave his own Government an extension of time till Bills on supplementary appropriation for those financial years were passed by the Parliament.

What Mr Picardo then did was to delay the passage of those Bills through Parliament massively. As Chief Minister he controls when Bills are taken in Parliament. For example, the Supplementary Appropriation Bill for 2016/17 was published in January 2018 but not passed till July 2021 – three and a half years later. By doing that he deliberately delayed the work of the Principal Auditor knowing full well that the Reports for those financial years could not be concluded or published. It made sure that things could not emerge before the 2019 or 2023 general elections.

This has become his politically engineered delaying tactic to ensure he blocks accountability and scrutiny of his own Government’s financial practices and of the use of your monies. In doing so he is not only blocking the publication of information, he is doing you a disservice. The inevitable question is what is there to hide? What other issues have been buried?

Mr Picardo is doing the same again with subsequent financial years. The Supplementary Appropriation Bill for 2019/21 was published in February 2022 but Mr Picardo did not pass it before the last election. That made sure that the Principal Auditor’s Report into 2019/21 could not be published before the 2023 election. It is obvious why. He did not want financially damaging information to emerge.

Mr Picardo waited so long that the Bill lapsed and has had to be re-published after the last election. There are now Supplementary Appropriation Bills pending before Parliament for 2019/21 and 2021/22. That’s why the Principal Auditor’s reports into those years haven’t emerged. Delaying these delays scrutiny and accountability.

All this is unacceptable but is sadly symptomatic of a Government that pays lip service to financial accountability and then does all it can to delay scrutiny for its own political interests.

Achieving the timely publication of these Principal Auditor Reports is only part of the way. There needs to be a much deeper programme of measures to trace how some of these monies have been spent, to stamp out waste, abuse, corruption and hold people accountable for misuse. This is not something you will ever get with the GSLP/Libs. This is a malaise that has marked Mr Picardo’s administration but it goes beyond him and tarnishes the entire GSLP/Libs Government.

We will continue to be your watchdog for change on these issues so that we can, in Government, implement the reforms necessary to put to an end to all these practices.

This is the text of a GSD party political broadcast on GBC on Thursday night.