GREAT BAY – “I have assured the General Audit Chamber that the Ministry of Justice respects its tasks and that under this minister it will fully cooperate,” Justice Minister Rafael Boasman said at yesterday’s Council of Ministers press briefing in reaction to a question from this newspaper about the fierce criticism the Audit Chamber directed in its 2016 annual report at the ministry for a lack of cooperation with its audit of personnel expenditures in 2015.
Minister Boasman said that he was “a bit surprised” when he read the front page article in Today (last Monday’s edition: “Justice Ministry undermines authority Audit Chamber”) saying that it is “unusual for the Audit Chamber or any high Council of State to go to the media and publish issues that are confidential.”
However, the article was based on the 2016 annual report of the Audit Chamber – and that report was made public. Minister Boasman later acknowledged this.
Nevertheless, when he called the Audit Chamber to ask what was going on the first thing he heard was that the Audit Chamber is not responsible for what newspapers print.
The Audit Chamber’s audit was into personnel expenditures at the Justice Ministry in 2015 that “seemed way out of sync with the budget,” Minister Boasman said.
That the ministry did not (fully) cooperate with the auditors and that this hampered its work, therefore leading to the undermining of its authority is beyond dispute. “I agree with that statement,” Minister Boasman said yesterday. “The General Audit Chamber has a clear task and all ministries are obliged to comply.”
The Audit Chamber also noted in its report that it sent Minister Boasman an advice in February and that is never received a response to it. Boasman: “Instead of providing a report, the Audit Chamber provided an advice to which no response was required. It was not a request from the Audit Chamber to provide information.”
There is more to this story though, because initially the minister was unaware of the existence of this advice. “We checked, but nothing came in from the General Audit Chamber in February. So we asked the Audit Chamber to resend us what they had sent and to indicate where their previous correspondence was delivered and to whom. Apparently it was delivered in March at Illidge Road where the ministry was previously located. But I am in the main Government Administration Building now. That created confusion and the advice did not reach me.”
When Minister Boasman finally got the advice on his desk and looked at it, he found that it contains issues he has been working on since January when he first took office. “They are not all issues the public is aware of or even interested in,” he said.
The minister gave the Miss Lalie Center in Cay Bay as an example. “It is physically there but officially it does not exist. It was a project that was instituted for a period of two years; that ended in December of last year. The project life has been extended but it comes with a lot of confusion. For instance, the situation of the personnel at the Miss Lalie Center cannot be regulated; the project is only budgeted as a subsidy.”
Minister Boasman does not intend to dive back in the past to hunt down guilty parties. “My intention is not to look back at what happened and at who did what, but to fix the situation. That’s what I am doing. I don’t have time and energy for pointing fingers.”
The minister added that he prefers to deal with personnel matters internally. “I can understand the frustration of the personnel and why they are going to court on a weekly basis. They win every time they go.”
The General Audit Chamber has in the meantime informed the ministry about the documentation it is missing for its audit and Boasman said that he has stared responding to the request.
“We had a similar situation with the Ombudsman. That report was not positive either, because of our lack of response. We have corrected that situation. It is my responsibility and I will not shun away from it.”