Tardy attitude by government officials in clearing advances
The issue of the President’s overseas travel has been the subject of comment by the Auditor General’s office as far back as 2003. Readers may be interested in looking at that office’s 2003 report which is found at the Audit Office of Guyana’s website.
I quote below the relevant sections of the report. Although not specifically referred to, it seems clear that the Auditor General was referring to the President’s overseas travel when he stated that 15 of these advances totaling $10.925 million relate to the overseas travel of a senior official in a key department and that the accounting officer explained that the concerned official is exempted from clearing his advances.
What is also of interest to readers is that, unlike other government officials, including ministers of the government, the Ministry of Finance has considered that this senior official has no obligation to clear his advances through the submission of bills and receipts. As readers will also notice, the Auditor General disagreed with the Ministry’s explanation, hence his recommendation below.
It is unclear whether the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which comprises both government and opposition members of parliament, flagged this as an issue. I have checked the websites of both the Audit Office and the Parliament Office and I have found no evidence that the PAC report for 2003 was issued.
Second, should not the opposition parties also accept blame for not raising this matter earlier? We are now told that the President’s overseas trips over the last two and a half years cost the taxpayers about $1 billion. Should not the Government be asked to make publicly available Cabinet approval, if any, of the President’s overseas trips as well as his reports to Cabinet on the results of these trips, or, is the President also exempt from these requirements?
Amounts totalling $128,208 million were expended on the cost of overseas conferences and official visits. According to the Conference Advances Register, 277 advances were granted for this amount, but up to the time of reporting 120 advances totalling $42.829 million remained outstanding. Fifteen of these totalling $10.925 million relate to the overseas travel of a senior official in a key department.
A similar observation was made in respect of 2002 where a total of 73 advances totalling $24.695 million remained uncleared at the time of reporting, of which 18 advances totalling $14.110 million relate to the overseas travel of the official referred to above.
The Accounting Officer explained that (a) the concerned official is exempted from clearing his advances (b) some of the other recipients were tardy in clearing their advances and (c) the remaining officers had submitted documentation to clear their advances, but due to the department’s staffing situation, there were delays in the clearing of the advances.
He further explained that the delinquent officers were written in June 2004, requesting them to submit documentation to clear their advances. The Audit Office, however, found no evidence in support of the explanation given at (a) above.
The Audit Office recommends that the Department notify the official referred to above of his obligation to clear all overseas travel advances through the submission of bills and receipts and other supporting documents to substantiate the payments made. (2003/57)
The Audit Office recommends that the department submit to the Office of the President a list of the officials who have not cleared their overseas travel advances within the prescribed time period. In this way, Cabinet will be apprised of this undesirable situation. (2003/58)
It should also be pointed out that Cabinet would have approved of the overseas travel of the concerned officials but there was no evidence that these officials, upon their return, prepared and submitted reports to Cabinet, as has been the practice in the past. As a result, Cabinet would not have been in a position to ascertain the outcomes of the deliberations that took place at the various meetings at which government officials attended. The Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Ministry, however, explained that he was aware of some officers submitting reports and that, given the confidential nature of some of the deliberations, reports were not prepared.
The Audit Office recommends that the Accountant General’s Department in collaboration with the Public Service Ministry institute measures aimed at ensuring that all public officers undertaking official travel submit reports to Cabinet through their heads of departments and subject ministers so that Cabinet can be apprised of the results of such travel. (2003/59)”