Last week, a meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of the Parliament in Jamaica called for officials at the Ministry of Education to appear before it to give an account of the Ministry’s operations. The reason for the summoning is a suspected corruption case that hit the news on March 20 that saw Ruel Reid, Minister of Education, Youth and Information, handing in his resignation, while maintaining his innocence.
“I see that there is a problem that signals a governance issue, a breakdown in supervision and oversight by the Minister and I have to intervene” said the Prime Minister before the House of Representatives, as the news broke.
The case unfolded with the questioning in an audit of the Ministry of Education conducted by the Auditor General’s Department (AGD). The audit is focused on “whether the selected public entities procurement and contracts management activities were conducted to attain value for money (which encompasses the achievement of economy, efficiency and effectiveness)”.
In the 2017/8 GEM Report we showed the importance of horizontal accountability mechanisms, such as audits, for exposing corruption, or mis-management within governments. They can also go beyond assessing compliance to audit performance, examining whether service provision is efficient and effective, whether policies and spending align with wider government and sector objectives, and whether organizational decision-making is sound. Poland’s Supreme Audit Office has carried out audits on issues ranging from the use of public funds for education institutions and research to the education of Polish citizens living abroad. The Swedish National Audit Office’s audit of the role of tertiary education institutions in providing lifelong learning opportunities led to a recommendation to the government to review incentive structures for such institutions.
Performance audits are increasingly common even in middle income countries. The Royal Audit Authority of Bhutan identified deficiencies in the school feeding programme and recommended setting standard dietary requirements, adapting menus accordingly and establishing a quality control system with an independent assessor.
Unfortunately, often the oversight function of audit mechanisms is not effective, which has partly to do with capacity. In Bangladesh, there was an average delay of 5 years before government agencies responded to audit observations on primary education and 10 years on secondary, for instance. In Sri Lanka, the Committee on Public Accounts demands follow-up on objections raised by the auditor general. For example, action against the director of an education department has been recommended, yet there has been no follow-up
Outside of public accounts committees, permanent committees on education in the legislatures can help hold governments to account, even though in practice their roles vary between countries. Analysis in the 2017/8 GEM Report of New Zealand, Norway, Peru, the United States and Zambia showed that committees usually carried out ex post reviews and provided oversight on legislation and executive actions, e.g. scrutinizing government actions, reviewing existing laws and recommending changes.
In short, while the facts are still unfolding, the case in the news in Jamaica at present shows how important it is for countries to invest in strong institutions to detect and deter corruption in education. The risk of corruption in all sectors and all levels require accountability mechanisms to be taken seriously. Our 2017/8 GEM Report is a good place to find out more about them.