Finance Minister’s wife in Audit Office … Attorney General says no conflict of interest
Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, has defended the recent confirmation of Geetangali Singh, wife of the Finance Minister, as the Audit Director, yesterday deeming criticism as being politically motivated.
Pointing out that Singh is merely one of three Audit Directors, Nandlall made it clear that the official is not the Auditor General.
“She is not answerable to the Minister of Finance or any member of the Executive, but to the Auditor General, who is in turn answerable to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The Auditor General has stated publicly that the audit of the Ministry of Finance and the various agencies and organs which fall under it is not part of the functions of Mrs. Singh,” Nandlall said.
When these realities are taken into account, and in the absence of any evidence whatsoever of any actual impropriety, the conclusion is imminent that the attack on Singh’s confirmation has more politics and vitriol than merits.
“The hypocrisy is nakedly revealed by the fact that the very Auditor General, audits the accounts of the same Parliament to which he is answerable. Yet, not a single utterance is made of this apparent conflict. The squabble is much ado about nothing.”
In his statement, the Attorney General who is also the Minister of Legal Affairs, argued that the PAC is a legal body to exercise general supervision and functioning of the office of the Auditor General.
“It is clear that the Auditor General and his officers are not accountable to the Executive but to Parliament. Secondly, the Auditor General and by extension, his officers, are not subject to the control or directions, and I dare say, interference, of any person or authority, including the Executive and Parliament,” the AG stated.
Singh, wife of Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, commenced her career at the Auditor General’s office in 1992 as an audit clerk.
“Today she ranks among the most qualified. In 2005, Mrs. Singh was appointed to the position of Audit Director (acting). Therefore, Mrs. Singh commenced functioning as Audit Director (acting) before her husband assumed the position of Minister of Finance in 2006. Significantly, Mrs. Singh is but only one of three Audit Directors functioning in that office.”
The Minister pointed out that on June 25th, the Auditor General brought to the PAC, for their approval, a number of appointments which he made, including the confirmation of Mrs. Singh as an Audit Director.
“The PAC, in the exercise of its statutory function, and by votes of the members of that Committee present and qualified to vote, granted their approval in compliance with the Audit Act. It is therefore manifestly plain that Mrs. Singh’s appointment was in compliance with the statutory procedures and therefore valid and proper. The contention that a member of the Committee was absent and that the Government took advantage of that absence is both infantile and irrelevant.”
The gravamen of the main objection to Singh’s confirmation is the fact that she is married to the Minister of Finance, Nandlall said.
“Since no scintilla of evidence has, thus far, been produced which establishes or would tend to establish that there is a single verifiable instance of an actuality of conflict of interest, one is forced to presume that the allegation of conflict of interest is predicated merely upon the fact of this marital relations and nothing else.”
In short, it is conflict of interest based upon perception and not actuality.
“Indeed, it is a fact of public notoriety that it is the very Auditor General’s office, where the same Mrs. Singh has worked over the last 20 years, seven of which she acted in the very position in which she is now confirmed, which has unearthed a number of financial irregularities and has posed several audit queries as it discharged its functions. The very opposition has made tremendous use of these irregularities and queries in their political pursuits.”
Additionally, the Attorney General said, having not objected to Mrs. Singh acting in that very position for the last seven years, one can forcefully argue that it amounts to an acquiescence and creates in favour of the Auditor General and Mrs. Singh, the benefit of a legitimate expectation that they will continue their no-objection.
The opposition has been criticizing the confirmation of Singh, saying that could raise the very likely scenario of a conflict of interest scenario.