Oct 24, 2016 News
If the Auditor General (AG) believes that there was an abuse or breach of the nation’s financial laws, then he has the authority to pursue avenues for prosecution of the offender.
And this includes ministers of the Government, says Chartered Accountant, Anand Goolsarran.
He said that according to the Audit Act, there is no provision which provides immunity for any minister.
With this in mind, Goolsarran said that if Auditor General Deodat Sharma believes that there was an abuse of the Contingency Fund then he is empowered to access the means to take the issue before the court.
According to the Audit Act, “If the Auditor General has reason to believe that an offence was committed, he shall request the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police to take appropriate action and prosecute the offender if necessary.”
The Act also states that a person who is convicted of an offence under section 38 is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not to exceed two hundred thousand dollars and to imprisonment for a term not to exceed five years; an entity or body of persons which is convicted of such an offence is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not to exceed one million dollars.
However, this is a course of action that has never been taken against a Finance Minister by the Auditor General.
However, in recent times, the abuse of the Fund which is only to be used in the event of an emergency, has been a source of much contention.
In fact, Sharma in his latest report criticized the Government’s advances from the Fund.
Sharma said that during the period under review, amounts totaling $799M were drawn from the Fund, by way of 24 advances. He said that it was disappointing to note that the advances continued to be granted, even though they did not meet the required criteria.
Kaieteur News was informed by the AG that he was left in a state of concern having learnt that eleven advances totaling $604M were granted from the Fund to meet “routine expenditure” for the year 2015.
His comments in this regard attracted nothing but criticisms from Finance Minister, Winston Jordan.
Jordan had said that Sharma’s comments in this regard do not count. The economist even went further to state that he has to account to Cabinet and Parliament and owes the Auditor General no explanation on the issue.
Speaking also to the quarrel between the Auditor General and the Minister over the use of the Contingency Fund was WPA Executive Member, Dr. David Hinds.
Dr. Hinds said that the argument is one that strikes at two things—the relationship between the two offices and the question of who has the final determination of what constitutes “emergency”.
The political activist said, “I think the Minister is correct in saying that what constitutes an emergency is a matter of interpretation and as such he does not owe the AG any explanation. He is also correct in saying that as Minister he is answerable to Cabinet and Parliament, specifically to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which referees such matters in the legislature. But in our divided politics, the PAC’s decision may be coloured by partisan considerations and therein lack legitimacy.’’
In that regard, Dr. Hinds said that Jordan is also subjected to the Courts which under the Judicial Review doctrine has the power to rule on whether the Minister’s action constituted an “emergency.” In so doing, he said that the court would be simultaneously setting down markers for future action.
“So I would urge that the matter be taken to court for Judicial Review. This is an issue that has been plaguing governance and accountability for too long. Both sides feel very strongly about their respective interpretations but neither side can impose its interpretation on the other, so let the court decide,” expressed the WPA Executive Member.
Dr. Hinds said that while the AG may be immune from court action, there is nothing stopping him from taking matters to court. He emphasized that there is also nothing stopping the Minister of Finance from testing his interpretation in court.
Over the years, the abuse of the Fund was a topical issue for A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance For Change when the parties served as the Parliamentary opposition.
In fact, it was AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan who had emphasized on several occasions that the National Assembly is the first device or mechanism for which emergency advances can be protected from abuse.
The politician had asserted, “The (PPP) has been abusing its understanding of the criteria of an emergency under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. When we run to the Fund it is only to be used for emergency cases, like if there is a serious flood in Mahaicony and we need to remove citizens. Money would be used in that case.”
The Public Security Minister was also one who constantly called for sanctions to be imposed against former Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh for his abuse of the Contingency Fund.
Today, the Government now finds itself in the same boat as the former regime.
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