Oct 19, 2016 News
– stresses his office enjoys full independence
By Abena Rockcliffe- Campbell
Auditor General Deodat Sharma is unfazed by utterances made by Finance Minister Winston Jordan in an attempt to discredit his report. Sharma said that he has grown accustomed to the modus operandi of politicians, who often react similarly to Jordan, in the wake of his reports.
The Auditor General said that he will continue to execute the functions of his office without fear or favour. He is maintaining that the APNU+AFC government, through Jordan, has been abusing the contingency fund.
In his 2015 report, Sharma noted that the Contingency Fund is only to be used in a case of extreme emergency, national importance, and when there has been no prior monetary allocation for an unforeseen circumstance. He said that he found the current government guilty of continued abuse of the Fund, as it accessed over $600M for “routine” expenses.
However, Jordan has become somewhat agitated by Sharma’s comments in his report. And, despite the fact that the Office of the Auditor General has been given responsibility to protect the public purse, Jordan is adamant that he does not owe Sharma any explanation.
At a recent press conference, Jordan said that the Constitution deems the Minister of Finance as the sole individual who will determine the emergency for which he can dip his hand into the Contingency Fund.
He continued, “It is the Minister of Finance who determines that…so you can’t come six months afterwards and tell me that the motor car that I bought with money from the Contingency Fund is not an emergency.”
However, yesterday, Sharma admitted that indeed his interpretation of an emergency may differ from what Jordan might deem an emergency. Nevertheless, the Auditor General said that the law clearly states that expenditure may be deemed an emergency if the postponement would be detrimental to public interest.
“Buying a vehicle cannot be detrimental to the public’s interest,” said Sharma.
The Auditor General gave instances where tapping into the contingency fund may be acceptable. In this regard, he said that if a seawall breaks away, if there is an outbreak of a disease “or any national disaster, for that matter,” monies to be spent to attend to those matters may comfortably be taken from the contingency fund.
EDITING OF REPORT
Further, at Monday’s press conference, Jordan said that it was usual for the draft report to be sent to the Ministry of Finance for editing before being published.
Sharma emphasised that Jordan is “totally out of order on that one”. The Auditor General said that there was never an instance where he sent his work to be edited by the Ministry of Finance.
“There is nothing in the Constitution which requires that the Audit Office, being an independent body, should send the draft report to the Ministry for editing.”
The Auditor General said that that sort of practice was condoned under the old Constitution but the new Constitution does not make provisions for such.
He said that under the new Constitution, his Office enjoys full independence and not having an edited report, “forms part of my independence. I have never sent a report to the Ministry of Finance for editing, never in my tenure have I done such.” He said that he will not do so in the future either.
Sharma told Kaieteur News that indeed there is a provision in the Audit Act which requires that at the conclusion of any audit, the Auditor General shall provide the relevant Head of a Budget agency, or the governing body in the case of other public entities, with a draft report including findings and recommendations, and the Head of the budget agency or the governing body shall provide a written response to the Auditor General within thirty days. He said that this response is to be included in his report.
“So according to the Act, I am only supposed to give the respective ministries, bodies, and regions the opportunity to respond to my findings. I did this. I sent my findings to the Permanent Secretaries, the Financial Secretary, the Accountant General and the Regions. I have included the response in the final report. I have done my part,” said Sharma.
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