Govt. not disposed to independent audit of NICIL accounts
- Auditor General says his independence could be threatened
The Government of Guyana through the Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, has said that the administration is not disposed to an independent audit of the affairs of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
Dr. Singh was at the time a panelist on a televised debate on NICIL hosted by the State-owned National Communications Network (NCN) on Tuesday last, and had been responding to a question posed by another panelist, Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram.
Ram had made the request of the Minister while in the company of two other directors of NICIL – Dr. Roger Luncheon and Winston Brassington.
Dr. Singh reminded the panelists, who also included Publisher of the Kaieteur News, Glenn Lall, along with the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief, Adam Harris, that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is already a Standing Parliamentary Committee tasked with this role. He reminded also that the PAC is always chaired by an Opposition Frontbencher.
The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) parliamentarian, Volda Lawrence, is the most recent chairperson of that body.
Former Finance Minister Carl Greenidge is set to assume the post upon resumption of the sitting of that Standing Committee.
What the substantive Finance Minister didn’t tell the panel during the discussion is that based on the report and recommendations emanating from that review process, it is the Ministry of Finance that issues a Treasury Memorandum – the document outlining the Government actions to be taken in response to deficiencies identified by the Audit Office or the PAC.
The Finance Minister also reminded of a similar request during the tenure of former Auditor General, Dr. Anand Goolsarran.
According to Dr. Singh, Dr. Goolsarran at the time had complained about such an independent audit.
Dr. Singh intimated that the former AG had suggested that it would be tantamount to double-checking his work.
This view seems to still hold merit, as the current Auditor General (ag), Deodat Sharma, says that such an audit would essentially threaten, if not completely remove his independence.
Sharma says that such an independent audit that has been suggested by Ram was not possible since the legislation only empowers his office, and him as Auditor General, to undertake such audits.
Asked about capacity constraints that may hinder the auditing processes at his office, Sharma said that where possible, he “contracts out” such work.
The audit of NICIL, however, is one such activity he confirms that has not been contracted out. Sharma asserted that he personally undertakes the auditing of this State-owned holding company.
He also reminded that outside of legislative constraints, there is also a Bill to undertake such a task.
Asked if whether all of the hurdles could be overcome and mechanisms be put in place, Sharma questioned,“who would fund such an audit?”