Poor accounting… MPs threaten to stop $3M subvention to NDCs until compliance
By Leonard Gildarie
A poor state of record-keeping at Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) has both Government and opposition parties hopping mad.
Parliamentarians of the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), sitting on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly, yesterday threatened to back measures to withhold an annual $3M subvention to the community management bodies guilty of not presenting their finances for state audit. The committee is the one tasked to examine Government accounts and how state funds are spent.
NDCs are tasked with managing the communities across the country.
This was following admissions by officials of the Ministry of Local Government and the Auditor General that financial statements remain a large problem.
The Ministry officials were at the time answering questions on observations made by the Auditor General in his 2010 report on the accounts of the NDCs and the regions.
The Port Kaituma/Matthews Ridge/Arakaka NDC in Region One was said to be the most problematic with accounts not presented since the 1990s.
The functioning of the NDCs has indeed been a major problem for Government throughout consecutive administrations.
Poorly maintained infrastructure, like drains and the collection of garbage, coupled with accusations of corruption, have been a major thorn in the side of government. There have been complaints about NDCs, in which some leaders were even accused of becoming power drunk.
With the last local government elections held in 1994 and the National Assembly now preparing to consider key legislative changes, the pressure has been increasing, including a recent, unprecedented public call from foreign donors for the early holding of same.
Last year, the Ministry replaced several non-functioning NDCs across the country with Interim Management Committees.
In addition to collecting rates and taxes, the NDCs would depend on the $3M subventions to help with capital works.
In 2010 alone, $320M was approved as subvention to six municipalities and 65 NDCs. The accounts, according to requirements, have to be completed no later than four months after the financial year would have ended.
At the time of the Auditor General’s work on the 2010 accounts, only 35 NDCs complied.
According to the Ministry, the 65 NDCs would have collected $195M in 2010 with M&CC $20M; Linden Town Council and New Amsterdam Town Council $10M each; Anna Regina Town Council $9M and Corriverton and Rose Hall Town Councils $8M each.
As of December last year, there were attempts by some of the bodies to present financial statements for varying periods, with the town councils managing up to $2009.
Odinga Lumumba, who represents Government on PAC, called on the Ministry to consider withholding the $3M until compliance. He was backed by both Manzoor Nadir and Gail Teixeira of the government side. He insisted that the situation has to come to an end.
Volda Lawrence, a Member of Parliament for A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), said that while she agreed that sanctions must be taken, she warned that citizens should not pay the price for what may be the fault of NDCs’ employees.
At the NDCs, the overseers are the ones responsible for the preparation of the accounts. It was even suggested that one of the measures to be taken is the withholding of salaries of the overseers.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Collin Croal, told the MPs that regional administrations are the ones that are responsible for disbursing funds.
It was acknowledged that while the regional administrations would have records of the monies paid to the NDCs, it was that of the rates and taxes that citizens were paying that is the biggest problem.
Croal said that Government has started training for the regional workers and even working to computerize the accounts.
However, the MPs remained unconvinced that in the short term it would solve the problem of non-compliance.
According to Nadir, a “strong signal” has to be sent to the NDCs and other regional bodies that it will not tolerate any slackening.
In addition to Lawrence, representing the Opposition on the PAC were Jaipaul Sharma of APNU and Trevor Williams of the Alliance For Change.
The PAC is chaired by APNU’s Carl Greenidge, a former finance minister under Desmond Hoyte administration.
The Local Government officials will have two weeks to make proposals to PAC on possible measures.