Opposition saw no ‘conflict of interest’ for six years
The Audit Office of Guyana has been managing with a view to preventing any ‘Conflict of Interest’ involving the wife of Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, for the past six years and the issue is nothing new.
Gitanjali Singh, the wife of Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, was confirmed recently as a Director of the Audit Office of Guyana, which has since sparked a furor in political opposition circles.
There is the belief that Mrs. Singh would have to certify her husband’s Ministry. It is this belief that is fuelling the conflict of interest position adopted by the political opposition.
However, President Donald Ramotar said that it seems as if the Alliance for Change in particular has forgotten that the office of the Auditor General no longer reports to the Ministry of Finance. That was a system that operates here.
Reports are presented directly to the Speaker of the National Assembly.
Mrs. Singh has been acting in the capacity of Deputy Auditor General since 2005. According to President Ramotar the issue of conflict of interest never arose.
She had joined the Office of the Auditor General in 1992.
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh assumed that portfolio after the 2006 general elections. This would mean that Mrs. Singh had been certifying accounts of the Ministry of Finance for some six years.
He said that meetings of the Public Accounts Committee responsible for finance never claimed conflict of interest.
Chaired first by the late Winston Murray and later by Volda Lawrence of A Partnership for National Unity, these meetings never assumed or considered conflict of interest, Ramotar said.
He blamed the present hype on the destructive attitude of the AFC hierarchy.
Auditor General (ag) Deodat Sharma has also put in place an ‘anti-conflict of interest’ arrangement by arranging for Mrs. Singh to sign an agreement.
In that document it is outlined that Mrs. Singh will have no involvement in any of the audits where there is a direct involvement of her husband, Dr. Ashni Singh.
She has reportedly adhered to this arrangement with the Audit office over the years.
The responsibilities of the Audit Office Directors fall into three categories.
These include Central Government Accounts, Internationally Financed (IDB/World Bank) Projects and Statutory Bodies.
Having acted as a director over the years Dr. Singh’s wife was tasked with the responsibility of the Statutory Bodies, minus those Dr. Singh would be involved in.
Those bodies would include the Bank of Guyana where Dr. Singh serves as a Board Member and the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) where he serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Mrs. Singh was recently confirmed in her post. The President said that the very opposition is often critical of acting appointments and has been calling for these people to be confirmed.
The Government had used its slim one vote majority in the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to approve the appointment.
Alliance for Change (AFC) member Trevor Williams failed to show up for the vote.
The vote has since attracted the ire of the political opposition as well as civic minded groups such as Transparency International.
The international corruption watchdog body through its local office headed by Attorney-at-Law, Gino Persaud, had condemned the move by the Government and had called on Head of State Donald Ramotar to intervene.
In its condemnation of the move by Government, Persaud had said that the Office of the Auditor General of Guyana a public office created by the constitution and is mandated to uphold and preserve the highest standards of independence and integrity in the discharge of its constitutional functions.
“As a result of this appointment, a critical role in the oversight of the financial statements of the country has been entrusted to the wife of the person responsible for preparing them…The auditing process by definition requires insulation from the subject of the audit, a consideration which has been completely ignored by this incestuous appointment, which is in turn likely to undermine the effective performance and operation of the OAG.”
He had argued also that “both the Minister of Finance and his wife are bound by standards of professional conduct laid down by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (UK) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana, to which they belong.”
Adding that a central rule of professional conduct mandated by these bodies relates to conflict of interest, Persaud said the retention of Mrs. Singh as Audit Director is likely to adversely affect the credibility of the Audit office and will undermine public confidence in such an important independent office created by the Constitution.
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