Auditor general, PAC Gov’t members clash over report

AUDITOR General Pamela Monroe Ellis and Government members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) locked horns at yesterday’s sitting over aspects of an internal audit on her department carried out out by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service in 2019.

In the audit report, tabled in Parliament on April 13 this year, Chief Internal Auditor Richard Dillon called out the Auditor General’s Department (AuGD) for lack of a business continuity plan specific to information technology (IT), and improper backup practices, which could put critical data at risk. The period audited was April 2016 to March 2019.

Monroe Ellis, amidst rapid-fire questioning from Clarendon Northern Member of Parliament (MP) Dwight Sibbles, and MP for St James Central Heroy Clarke, explained that while a business continuity plan was not contained in a specific document, this was embedded in the day-to-day IT processes and procedures.

“The business continuity strategy started many years ago when we took the decision to automate our process…we wanted to be able to tap into the system wherever we are that the audits could continue,” Monroe Ellis said.

“I take an approach of agility where the department must be able to respond at all times when there are changes happening around us. There is no requirement in government for us to have a business continuity plan but it is a best practice. It doesn’t matter if you have a manual, what is important is that you know what you’re supposed to do, and you know what you’re supposed to do when the procedures are embedded in your daily processes,” the auditor general added.

She said these layered processes are not detailed in a document, which is what the audit had pinpointed, and the department would engage a consultant to codify and assess the processes.

Things got heated when Monroe Ellis pointed out that she was only now being made aware that the business continuation plan was specific to IT, and said that she had been absent from both the entrance and exit meetings for the audit .

“There was no point in time that I was aware that it was focusing on IT, until this very moment,” she told the committee.

Dillon insisted that this was outlined in the draft audit report, and that the scope of the audit as it pertained to IT was also made clear throughout the probe, and during the exit meeting.

“In addition, the draft report was submitted and managers would have had the opportunity to look at it and see what we found,” he explained.

Monroe Ellis argued that despite her absence, she had made apt arrangements for representation at the meeting and that she had also held extensive discussions with Dillon in October last year.

She said it was her understanding that those talks were in fact an exit meeting.

“I had a meeting with Mr Dillon where we discussed all the issues with the appropriation accounts…my understanding from my corporate services director is that that constituted the exit interview,” she stated.

But the chief internal auditor was firm in his position that it was not, saying “We only have one official exit meeting.”

Monroe Ellis said she was overseas on Government business at the time of the entrance meeting to initiate the audit, which ran from July to September 2019.

Meanwhile, she stressed that there was no overall dispute with the findings of the audit but noted that the two errors which Dillon had acknowledged in a letter to the PAC could have been addressed had the department received further feedback from the internal auditor after it responded to the draft report.

The audit also highlighted issues with procurement, travel allowances, expenditure records and cash management.

The discussions on these and the finance ministry’s report on the appropriation accounts of the AuGD for 2013/14, and 2016/17, and 2017/18, are to continue at the next meeting of the PAC.

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