Auditor General raises concern over Magistrate’s Court payments for counseling sentences

Auditor General raises concern over Magistrate’s Court payments for counseling sentences
Auditor General Terrance Bastian

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Auditor General Terrance Bastian has raised concerns over the level of transparency and accountability in a process that sees defendants pay for counseling services as part of a conditional discharge.

Bastian’s report, dated January 9, 2020, was tabled in the House of Assembly on Wednesday.

The report noted a number of concerned court personnel and private bar members told auditors that court defendants were being given a myriad of sentences, which included counseling as part of a conditional discharge that necessitated remuneration.

It underscored receipt of these funds were being facilitated by the courts, adding “there is a concern that transparency and accountability may be lacking in this process”.

The report also found that important files were missing from domestic and civil cases, including birth certificates, which would determine the age of the child and aid in determining when an order for child support would cease.

It furthered the arrears schedule attached to files were manually prepared and in most instances were inaccurate; there were inconsistencies in cheque payments; and clients were still paying maintenance support even after a child had reached the age of maturity.

The auditor general recommended a review of all active client’s files and that all pertinent information and documents inclusive of the identification of both parents be included.

The audit also found instances where officers who were not assigned to the accounts department were performing accounting functions.

The auditor general underscored the importance of properly segregating functions to ensure proper controls.

There are 13 magistrate courts in New Providence.

The accounts department within the magistrate court is managed by an accountant who reports to a finance officer.

There are cashier both day and night courts.

All funds received into the magistrate courts should be collected by cashiers.

In an effort to better serve their clients and to provide improved accountability to stakeholders, the Ministry of Finance assisted in the implementation of an automated system to assist with the tracking of cashing flowing in and out of the magistrate’s courts in March 2017, the report noted.

In response to the audit, the registrar said since assuming the role it was obvious the accounts department at the magistrate’s court was in “dire need” of staff and resources in order to
function efficiently and effectively.

“Shortages of cashiers (and other accounting staff) in addition to the issues in relation to the use of the QuickBooks system has plagued that department for far too long.

“I have communicated on these issues previously.

“However, your report has highlighted and corroborated this and it is hoped that it will assist us in obtaining the much-needed assistance from the relevant ministries more timeously.”

The registrar also noted the auditor’s findings illuminated other issues, which may require further inquiry and “I will revert should we wish to instruct you further in that regard”.

The audit examined accounting records, domestic and civil files, receipt books and analyzed accounting reports and banking documents.