– “To add insult to injury, the Auditor General signs off on financial statements approved not by the Board which has the statutory duty for the financial statements but by Mr. James Singh, the Commissioner,” Chris Ram
The Annual Reports and the Audited Financial Statements of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) leaves more worrying
questions than convincing answers, particularly as it relates to transparency and accountability.
Chartered Accountant, Chris Ram among other critics, upon doing a detailed analysis of the Annual reports of the agency for the years, 2005-2012 all of which were laid in the National Assembly in November, 2013 found several alarming deficiencies and irregularities.
But even in the face of these, the reports were granted “unqualified opinions” by the Auditor General. When a report is given an unqualified opinion by an auditor, it means that he has vouched for the authenticity, accuracy and transparency of the information presented to him.
The reports reveal that for several years, the Commission has been transferring millions to the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) and the Environmental Protection Agency, which is against the law.
Ram contends that for the $600 million that the GFC allowed to be paid over to NICIL, all its directors should be hauled before the courts while NICIL should be investigated and disbanded. He said that the combination of NICIL/GFC is not only an insult to the intelligence of Guyanese but a challenge and an affront to decency.
To add insult to injury, Ram noted that the Auditor General signed off on financial statements approved not by the Board of Directors of GFC which has the statutory duty for the statements, but by Mr. James Singh, the Commissioner “Surely even the most docile Guyanese must have some breaking point at which they say enough is more than enough.”
The Chartered Accountant on his website, Chrisram.net said that one would expect Finance Ministers to be zealously vigilant and robustly protective of moneys payable into the country’s Consolidated Fund. “Instead, we have NICIL, under the
successive chairmanship of two Finance Ministers, being used to siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars due to the Consolidated Fund. There can be no extenuating circumstances that could excuse, let alone justify such unlawful and reckless conduct, fully aware of the nescient (ignorant) state of the Auditor General’s Office,” The accountant expressed.
There was also a published series on the said shortcomings of the Commission’s reports done by Janette Bulkan and John Palmer.
The duo also pointed to the NICIL/GFC fiasco. In their detailed analysis, they too pointed to the fact that large amounts of monies, and large variations from year to year between line items in the Commission’s annual reports appear to have been unquestioned by the Auditor General.
Bulkan and Palmer said that no explanation was offered as to why the GFC should be holding over US$4 million in cash each year, why transfers are made to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NICIL, but none to the Consolidated Fund.
They said too that no explanation was given by the GFC as to why it is acquiring and disposing of fixed assets and why it has current tax liabilities of up to US$10 million in a year – dwarfing other line items.
They stressed that there is a legal requirement for the GFC to make transfers to the Consolidated Fund (Section 16 (2) in the GFC Act 2007), but no requirement to send money to the EPA or NICIL.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Carl Greenidge, in support of their findings, said that this is an important and contentious issue.
The former Finance Minister reiterated that the Forestry Act of 2009 makes no reference to either NICIL or the EPA so an explanation is definitely needed as to the relationship of the two entities and their claims on GFC funds.
“We need to know what instructions or secret agreements were made to facilitate this blatant disregard for the law. Did the
GFC Board actually take this decision or was it a calculated move by the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Robert Persaud? The people need to know,” Greenidge concluded.
A Partnership for National Unity’s Member on the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources, Joseph Harmon said too that even from a limited review of the reports of the Commission, “it seems like the GFC is another milking cow for NICIL, more food in the trough for Brassington and his crew. As these emerge, Guyanese people see clearly how the country’s resources are siphoned off to a parallel budget over which the National Assembly has no control.”
Moreover, Ram had also stated that the GFC is just another example of the perpetuation of Jagdeo’s legacy of financial lawlessness, a situation that is as wide as it is deep.
He said that the state of financial lawlessness created by former President Bharrat Jagdeo surely allows for the GFC’s “incomplete and deceptive” reports to be tabled and accepted by the National Assembly without any questions being asked or challenges posed.
Ram asserted that the chaos created is one in which the national accounting body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana, remains silent even as basic rules of accounting are violated with impunity.
The state of lawlessness that exists, is “One in which the parliamentary bodies are paralysed by their own mediocrity. One in which we even have a mini-parallel Consolidated Fund called NICIL and where the evidence of slush funds everywhere mounts,” he added.
On his website, Ram said that only a wide-ranging, independent investigation into the public financial management of this country generally and of NICIL specifically can stem the relentless decline in accounting and accountability. He opined that the Government will not allow it and the weak opposition will not ask for it but the people of Guyana must demand it.
On his website, the accountant provides further details about his findings of the reports of the Commission for the years 2005 to 2012 which were all laid in Parliament in November, 2013.
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