Auditor General Sonia Webster said late last year that her office had made progress on completing the long-delayed 2017 government audit. (Photo: COI)

The Office of the Auditor General has received and reviewed the Treasury Department’s financial statements for 2017 and hoped to have long-delayed audits for that year completed in 2021, Auditor General Sonia Webster told the Standing Finance Committee late last year.

Ms. Webster answered legislators’ questions on the topic in the SFC, which held closed-door meetings in November and December, according to a report on the proceedings released Monday.

At the time, she said her office had reviewed and returned the financial statements to the Treasury Department, though she explained that the timeline for the completed audits depended on when the statements were reviewed and returned by the department.

Ms. Webster told the Beacon yesterday that as of Dec. 22 the Treasury Department had reviewed and returned that set of statements.

“We are treating these statements that we got in December as the final set,” she said, adding that the audit should be complete late this month or early next month.

Longstanding delays

Delayed audits have plagued the territory for years, and became a focal point during last year’s Commission of Inquiry hearings.

During her testimony in July before the COI, Ms. Webster confirmed that there were no certified annual government audits for the years from 2017 to 2020. She added that often the audits are delayed because her office receives financial statements with “significant issues that need to be addressed,” such as omitted financial disclosures.

Furthermore, she said at the time, her office had sent 2017 financial statements back to the accountant general twice for revisions but had not heard back on its latest request.

During the more recent SFC hearings, she added that she hoped to continue clearing the backlog. With the 2017 financial statements received, her office “was also anticipating receiving the outstanding statements since Treasury has a consultant that was working directly on the statements,” the SFC report paraphrased.

The report also paraphrased the auditor general as stating that 2021 had been a “challenging year,” as her office was functioning with fewer resources since the loss of staff members and the difficulty in obtaining permission to replace the positions.

She said the office recently advertised two positions and was awaiting the results, while “looking forward to be able to hire senior auditors who can help move the office forward,” the report paraphrased.

Furthermore, she added, “there are some staff members who are pursuing professional qualifications in order to bring the staff and the office up to standard.” During the hearings, she said that the office is still seeking additional staff, and that her office was able to source training remotely, for which the Human Resources Department funded some of the cost.

Acting Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said he was “elated” at the auditor general’s progress following the submission of government’s financial statements to her office, and expressed support for filling the vacant position.