Oct 20, 2016 News
The recent assertion by Finance Minister, Winston Jordan that the views of Auditor General, Deodat Sharma on the Contingency Fund, do not count, is eliciting cautionary responses from various quarters.
One such opinion is that of Former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran, who told Kaieteur News yesterday that Jordan’s remarks have essentially “weakened respect and confidence in the Audit Office”.
The Chartered Accountant said too, that Jordan’s utterances have also set a dangerous precedent in the system of public financial management and accountability.
“The Minister’s reaction to the findings of the Auditor General is rather unfortunate. I wish to remind readers that Article 223 of the Constitution specifically states that in the exercise of his functions under the Constitution, the Auditor General shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.”
The Former Auditor General added, “Sharma is not part of the Executive Branch of the Government, and it is for this reason that the constitutional amendment of 2001 provides for direct reporting to the National Assembly via the Speaker”.
Goolsarran said that while the Minister might have reason to disagree with the findings of the Auditor General, that disagreement must be tempered and expressed with due regard to the constitutionality of his office.
Goolsarran emphasised that the Auditor General holds the rank similar to that of the Chief Justice.
“In the same way, one would not expect any Minister of the Government to indulge in a public abuse of the Chief Justice, if he or she is unhappy with the Chief Justice’s ruling, so should it be with the Auditor General.”
“The Chief Justice’s ruling can be appealed against to the Court of Appeal. Similarly, the appropriate forum to address any disagreement in the Auditor General’s report is at the level of the Public Accounts Committee.”
With the aforementioned in mind, Goolsarran stressed that the Minister’s public outburst has come at a time when the rate of implementation of the Auditor General’s recommendations is extremely low.
He said that this can only serve to embolden Heads of Budget Agencies to ignore the Auditor General’s recommendations. He posited that in the circumstances, Guyana’s system of public financial management and accountability will continue to remain weak.
In his latest report on the accounts of the nation, Auditor General Deodat Sharma said that he found the current Government guilty of continued abuse of the Fund as it accessed over $600M for “routine” expenses.
The Auditor General said that it was disappointing to note that the money was granted, even though it did not meet the required criteria.
Even though the Auditor General (AG) is designated the role of being the protector of the nation’s purse, Finance Minister Jordan asserted that he does not owe Sharma an explanation. In fact, he went as far as to say that Sharma’s views on the “abuse’ of the Fund do not matter.
Jordan had emphasised 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.
“In this, he does not have to consult with the Auditor General. Being a member of Cabinet, he consults with
the Members of Cabinet…Whether the AG wishes to determine what I have done, whether it was an emergency or not, that is his interpretation. It doesn’t count under the law,” the Finance Minister said.
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.”
“You don’t know the circumstances that gave rise to the situation. He never came to me and asked me. I am the only person he can ask seeking an explanation on it, but I don’t have to explain anything to the Auditor General. I have to explain to the Parliament. So going around saying that the government can’t account for $600M or $500M or $400M is just playing to the gallery as far as I am concerned.”
The economist stressed that for last year, there was one request by the Government to access the Contingency Fund for the May to December period. He said that the request only represented 0.36 percent of its budget last year.
He said that requests and advances made for similar periods in 2011represented 4.8 percent of the budget; 2.77 percent in 2012; 1.13 percent in 2013; and 1.2 percent in 2014.
“For this year, there has been one request, and so shall it remain,” the Finance Minister said.
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