Accounting woes plague our foreign missions
– Auditor General’s Report
Just as Guyanese are migrating to other countries it would appear that the accounting troubles which plague the Government are migrating too.
The Auditor General’s report of 2009 indicates that all may not be well with the foreign missions Guyana maintains in several countries around the globe. In his last examination of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the AG highlighted a number of discrepancies in the accounting performance of several missions as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
One of the first matters discussed was that of remittances and recording by four foreign missions: Guyana’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, the Consulate in New York, the Consulate in Toronto and the Embassy in Brussels.
The Permanent Mission to the United Nations was in need of reconciliation for the sum of USD$15,763.99 which the Director General is seeking to have written off as a loss. Meanwhile the Consulates to New York and Toronto were cited for not banking/remitting revenues in a timely manner. The Embassy in Brussels had a slightly different problem wherein they were not keeping adequate record of the funds converted to the currency of trade in Brussels as against the USD funds received from the Sub-Treasury in Washington D.C.
On the home front, the AG said in his report that the funds required to meet the operational expenditure of the overseas missions on a monthly basis were being sent either at the end of the month or in the following month – a situation which has been going on for some years. The AG highlighted possible consequences of these late payments. Among them were the possibilities of the missions’ bank accounts being overdrawn or subjected to interest charges or other penalties. He also indicated that such occurrences could “adversely affect the missions’ credibility established over the years”.
In a rare laudatory statement for the AG, the report praised the officers of these missions for their prudence in dealing with these matters. The report said, “Surely, it is to the credit of the functioning Financial Attaches, Executive Officers (Accounts) and the Representatives of the Head of Budget Agency that the missions’ accounts were neither overdrawn nor were there situations of tarnished credibility over the period.”
The Ministry’s response to the finding was that they “will make every effort to remit funds to Missions in a timely manner.” The recommendation that the Ministry remit funds one month in advance to overcome the three-week processing period required for remittances was also included in the report on the matter.
Another issue raised was that of the Embassy in Washington D.C. transferring funds to nine of Guyana’s overseas missions on the Ministry’s behalf and receiving no acknowledgement of receipt from these missions with the exception of two. The Permanent Mission to the United Nations and to a lesser extent the Embassy in Beijing, were the only ones to submit acknowledgements. The other Consuls, Embassies and High Commissions were in Brazil, Belgium, Venezuela, India, Suriname and New York and together they accounted for some USD $2.757M. Meanwhile the total disbursement for the nine consulates during the accounting period was USD $4.903M.
On the flip side of the coin, the AG pointed out that the Accountant General’s office is yet to acknowledge the remittances of revenues from Guyana’s overseas missions. The revenues for the current period are some $181.458M, and according to the report, some acknowledgements have been outstanding for longer than ten years.
Another issue raised by the Auditor General was that of diplomatic staffing. He highlighted incidents where the activities of the High Commissioner posted to London and the Ambassador posted to Brussels, both saw their ability to fulfill the mandates of their positions curtailed by the need to undertake administrative tasks that were clearly the responsibility of other officers that these missions did not have in their employ at the time.
In the case of Brussels, the lack of adequate staffing saw the Ambassador undertaking the “online” banking for the Embassy, transferring salaries of home-based staff and in the absence of the Representative of the Head of the Budget Agency, carrying out supervisory checks on the accounting process.
The AG looked at two repercussions of this lack of staffing to which end the report states, “… diplomatic work is likely to suffer if either the Ambassador or the diplomatic staff goes on leave or is otherwise engaged.”
The report went on to state, “The shortage of staffing also resulted in critical gaps in the accounting process, where it was necessary for the Ambassador to sign blank cheques and bank transfer orders when away from the Embassy for periods over two weeks.”
Further to which it was highlighted that in every mission the financial duties were not sufficiently segregated for sound accounting procedures to be maintained. There were cases of one officer undertaking related duties such as the preparation of payment and receipt vouchers; executing payments while simultaneously writing up the Sub-accountant’s cash book, the expenditure statements and the cash book; the preparation and signing of cheques and the preparation of bank reconciliation statements, collection, deposit and remittance of revenue.
The AG went on to say in his report that “It is only because of the honesty of the officers manning these units that the weaknesses were not exploited”.
Meanwhile the Ministry’s response on the matter was that they are “looking at the possibility of recruiting additional staff.”
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