Nov 26, 2008 News
No fraud detected, culture change needful – Commission Chairman
The need for a paradigm shift is urgent at City Hall in order to create a system that could see the municipality operating in an optimal manner in a modern society.
This notion was emphasised yesterday by Commissioner of Inquiry, Mr Keith Burrowes, who is currently spearheading investigations into the operations of the city municipality.
Burrowes’s involvement in the municipality became relevant after concerns were raised earlier this year following the release of the Auditor General’s Report for 2007, which suggested that there were major financial discrepancies and mismanagement at City Hall.
The irregularities identified in the report, to a large extent, implicated the office of the Town Clerk, the Office of the City Treasurer, included loans to members of staff and others, advances on salaries to members of staff, irregularities in rates collection, municipal bank accounts in commercial banks, and restructuring municipal departments and operations.
Burrowes, along with a supporting team made up of some City Councillors, a representative of the Ministry of Finance, a representative of the Local Government Ministry and a trade unionist, commenced the investigation on September 17 last.
The task of this investigating committee is to pronounce on the culpability of the Town Clerk and the City Treasurer, and to make recommendations to the Minister of Local Government in all the matters enquired into.
Although initially reluctant to pronounce on the ongoing investigation, Burrowes divulged to this newspaper that the process has been very revealing. He noted that it has served to highlight that the Council’s operation is subjected to rules and regulations, such as Chapter 28:01, which were developed several decades ago.
He pointed out that, while it is the belief of many that the commission was formulated to primarily address the financial operation of the Council, it in fact has a much broader mandate, which transcends the Treasury department.
Burrowes disclosed that as far as the financial investigations go, the commission has so far not unearthed any evidence of fraud. He noted, though, that that does not mean that financial discrepancies are lacking.
“So far, I have not detected any fraud. However, it does not mean that there are not financial discrepancies. We have been unable to conclude the financial aspect so far, because over the past four to five years the Auditor General has been giving them a disclaimer, meaning that they do not believe anything that they (the Council) say.”
This, Burrowes said, means that when such information gains the attention of the commission, it must first be validated, a process which according to him is very time consuming.
He revealed that the commission has detected that the council’s inefficiencies are linked to the lack of capacity in all of the departments, lack of proper systems, and a lack of innovation in responding to challenges.
Burrowes articulated that one of the key issues that must be addressed is the change of the culture of operation at the municipality, which will in fact be a long-term change that will see even the capabilities of officers in key positions being thoroughly scrutinised.
“You cannot be able to respond to the needs of the citizens if you continue to operate in this particular manner. My report will point to ways of enhancing efficiency even if you are to operate within the current revenue base. I believe if you do things a little better you can get more services provided out of this same revenue base. My fear is if you continue to operate like this, and new revenue comes into this current way of operating, it would not make much of a difference.”
For this reason, Burrowes noted, it would be necessary that the commission recommend some kind of change which in effect will work towards the municipality being better able to provide a proper service to the citizenry of Georgetown.
According to Burrowes, he anticipates that the process will be completed within the stipulated three-month period, which will end in mid-December, at which point the commission’s detailed recommendations will be made available to the Minister of Local Government.
The commission will hold its final hearing into the matter today at 17:00 hours at City Hall.
Burrowes is urging members of the public with burning issues to seize the opportunity to make public their complaints, or contact him directly in this regard.
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