Former chief of the state-owned Guyana Water Inc. (GWI), Shaik Baksh, who was sent home shortly after the new administration took office, last year, has been recommended to face disciplinary actions.
An audit report into the operation of the entity, which is charged with overseeing water connections to homes across the country, also recommended actions against other officers where applicable in accordance to GWI policy and procedures.
The audit report, paid for by the Inter-American Development Bank, said in several instances, Baksh, a former Housing Minister under the Government of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government, breached established company policies and procedures and abused his authority while executing his functions.
Among other things, Baksh who also served as Minister of Education, was accused of misappropriation of cash advances for sites visits.
For the period January 2014 to May 2015, the Chief Executive and his assistants collected $3.9M to facilitate official field trips.
The official had reportedly used GWI’s assets to campaign for the PPP/C during the last General Elections.
However, auditors HLB R. Seebarran & Co could not easily verify the authenticity of the invoices submitted.
As a matter of fact, some of the documents presented by Baksh and his team found similar handwritings on bills issued by different persons.
In some cases, bills issued in location for services rendered, were also issued by the same person in another location, suggesting they were false.
The matter of the irregularities was raised during an emergency meeting held on May 28, 2015 by the Chairman, Ramesh Dookhoo, and Board of Directors to discuss the conduct of the Chief Executive Officer.
“These include misappropriation of cash advances for sites visits, abuse of authority in using the company assets, overriding company policies etc,” the audit report disclosed.
The legitimacy of expenses and field trips could not have been verified since bills produced did not provide any contact information for the persons issuing same; no other official from GWI was stated accompanying the Chief Executive on the claimed official visits; and the purposes of the visits were not stated, the report said.
For example, Baksh and his people submitted a claim for US$400 ($84,000) on an invoice dated 05/09/14 M. Ramgoolan for “hire of taxi Piarco – POS San Fernando Chaguanas/ POS”. This was to clear advance of $105,000 taken on September 4, 2014.
The reason was for a visit to the Water Authority of Trinidad and Tobago by Baksh.
This was a problem, according to the auditors. “We were informed that neither the Board of Directors nor senior management was aware of this visit.”
Another case had Baksh submitting bills dated December 4, 2014 totaling $200,000.
“These were proven to be fictitious as security logs showed that the Chief Executive was at Head Office instead of the locations claimed.”
Auditors also said they flagged an advance Baksh took days before the General Elections, on April 30, 2015, for $300,000. It was for visits to Upper Pomeroon Region and Santa Rosa and Villages in Moruka Sub Region.
However, one of the bills presented totaled $245,000 for hiring of speed boat from Charity to Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa to Moruka return and Santa Rosa to Mabaruma return was dated May 11, 2015 – Elections Day which was declared a public holiday.
According to the audit report, there were other instances where questionable bills were presented.
For example, Baksh’s employment contract dated September 17, 2012 does not
provide for compensation for medical expenses.
However, an instance was noted where monies were reimbursed for a “claimed” on the job accident.
“This accident was never reported to the Occupational Health and Safety Officer or the Human Resources Department nor was there any accident report prepared to justify payments. The total value amounted to $29,000 which was approved by the Management Accountant, S. Tiwari and paid on April 24, 2015.”
There were other “medical” bills submitted by Baksh. On February 3, 2015, he claimed for $85,000 for a MRI cervical spine; while on March 4, he claimed $50,000 for “medical treatment”.
On March 19, 2015, the chief took $20,000 more for “medical expenses”.
There were other instances where Baksh received refunds for entertainment. On December 19, 2014, he hosted a team from Solaris, Barbados with the bill at $13,200.
Three months prior to that, on October 16, 2014, he “purchased meals” for a team from Brazil for $32,983. On April 29, 2015, there was a team from Trinidad with the chief claiming $27,095.
The problem with these “expenses” is that only Baksh seemed from have known about the groups he entertained.
“We were unable to determine whether other GWI officials were present on these occasions,” the audit report said.
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