Govt. and lotto funds…Audit Office unable to pay for independent legal advice
…Sharma presses for forum with Dr Goolsarran, Ramson, Nandlall
By Gary Eleazar
Guyana’s Auditor General (ag), Deodat Sharma, says that he will be looking to have a meeting with his predecessor Dr Anand Goolsarran as it relates to the use of proceeds of the Lottery Fund, by Office of the President.
Sharma told this publication yesterday that he will also be seeking to have a meeting with the former Attorney General, Charles Ramson, SC who had pronounced that Office of the President was within its jurisdiction to hold onto the money in a special fund and expend as it sees fit, without having to go through any Parliamentary oversight.
Sharma says that he will also be looking to have the current Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, assist with the matter, and to seek a lawful way forward to have the matter settled once and for all.
Auditor General Sharma informed that he was also looking to employ the services of trained Attorneys, but the Audit Office is hamstrung by a lack of funds to undertake any such legal advice.
The Audit Office of Guyana, though autonomous in nature, is dependent on the discretion of the Government and Ministry of Finance for money to undertake its functions.
Up until the pronouncement by Ramson, Auditor General Sharma had annually criticized the administration for not placing the proceeds received from the Guyana Lottery into the Consolidated Fund.
The government gets 24 per cent on every ticket sold.
Following the pronouncement by the Senior Counsel, Dr Goolsarran had deemed the argument as deeply “flawed.”
Ramson had advised Sharma that there is no legal basis for Government’s (people of Guyana) portion of the Guyana Lottery Company’s revenues to be paid into the Consolidated Fund.
Dr Goolsarran, however, is of the opinion that Ramson is wholly wrong in his assertion.
“I am very passionate about the Consolidated Fund, because that is where all public monies should sit, and the lotto money is public money.”
Dr. Goolsarran qualifies his statement first with his background as Auditor General and stresses that this has led him to have a clear understanding of public finances.
He also said that he considers himself a ‘quasi lawyer.’
Dr. Goolsarran explained that even though he is not a qualified lawyer he has undertaken a significant amount of law studies because, “as Auditor General you have to know the law….I may not be a qualified lawyer but as Auditor General, you have to know the law.”
He explained that as Auditor General he had to be aware of public finances and the principles that govern public financing.
Dr. Goolsarran also pointed out that Ramson had referred to an outdated law when he pronounced that Office of the President was within its jurisdiction to oversee the management of the lotto funds.
This is a position which was adhered to previously by Sharma, who said that he too is of the belief that the monies should, according to the Constitution, be transferred to the nation’s coffers in the form of the Consolidated Fund.
He said that he is restricted by Ramson’s declaration, given that it was a decision on government policy.
Dr Goolsarran contended that Ramson was speaking about legislation from the 1960s, when Guyana had a National Lottery Control Committee.
The former Auditor General explained that one major difference is the fact that during the 1960s, the government of the day had managed the Lottery, as against present-day circumstances, where the lottery only pays government proceeds.
He said that at that time it was the government that had to make the pay-out, so it would have made sense at the time to have the fund administered exclusively by the administration.
“You have a different scenario now, where the government is not involved…it is a private arrangement.”
He said that the 24 per cent which is paid over to the government is akin to a ‘licence fee’
Dr. Goolsarran reiterated that the gravest implication of having the monies controlled by Office of the President is the lack of Parliamentary oversight.
“Parliament is not approving of this expenditure,” said Dr. Goolsarran as he drew reference to Lotto funds and reiterated, “all public expenditure must be sanctioned by Parliament.”
The non-transferral of 24 per cent of the money paid over to the government by the Guyana Lottery Company as the people’s share from lotteries, was described as an open and unashamed violation of Article 216 of the Constitution.
It was the late Winston Murray who had made this statement while he held the portfolio of shadow finance Minister.
Former president Bharrat Jagdeo, even before Ramson had made his pronouncement, had stated that there was nothing wrong with the way the monies were being used.
His contention was that the Lotto funds were audited and it was not an issue of how it is spent. “It is just a technical issue whether it should be transferred to the Consolidated Fund and then spent from the fund rather than being spent this way.”
He noted that what happens now is that what is needed for a project is transferred and then the project is done on that basis.
“If a project is $50M then we transfer that amount to the fund and the project is done on that basis.”
Jagdeo also noted that the financial laws of the country did allow for the setting up of funds outside of the Consolidated Fund. “It has always been a question of a technical issue rather than an accountability issue.”
When questioned as to whether there would be any amendments to avoid a recurrence, Jagdeo said, “I don’t think so.”
Several Auditor General Reports had recommended to the Ministry of Finance to take appropriate measures to close the bank account that currently holds the government’s 24 per cent proceeds of the Guyana Lotteries and ensure that it is paid over directly to the Consolidated Fund.
This, the Auditor General’s Report notes, would be in accordance with Section 21 (1) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, which states that all budget agency receipts shall be credited to the Consolidated Fund.