By Kiana Wilburg
It is better to try and fail than fail to try. This old saying sums up the argument recently posited by Chartered Accountant, Anand Goolsarran, as it relates to the Government’s reported difficulties with the forensic audit reports.
In this regard, the Chartered Accountant reminded that the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan told the media on numerous occasions that the major trouble in prosecuting persons, who have been fingered in the forensic audit reports, is the reluctance of key witnesses to give evidence to the police and to testify in the courts.
Goolsarran opined that a key concern relating to this reluctance is what may be viewed as a significant mismatch between persons selected as prosecutors on the one hand, and defence lawyers on the other.
He said, “The accused in all probability will select the best lawyers, while the prosecutors may lack the relevant legal background, experience and skills to represent the State in these high-profile cases”.
The former Auditor General added, “These prosecutors are likely to find it extremely difficult to counter the arguments of the battery of experienced and reputable lawyers representing the accused. In the circumstances, witnesses often find themselves in the receiving end, especially during the cross-examination sessions, with the prosecutors standing helplessly by”.
With the preceding in mind, Goolsarran in his recent writings stated that if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute someone, the Government should not prejudge what is likely to happen, but should proceed with the prosecution. He stressed that if witnesses fail to show up to give evidence in court and the case is thrown out, then so be it.
“At least, the Government would have discharged its responsibilities, and citizens will feel reasonably satisfied that it has done its best to bring to justice those who are alleged to have committed acts that are detrimental to interest and well-being of the State,” the Chartered Accountant expressed.
Additionally, he said that it is incumbent upon the Director of Public Prosecutions to engage the services of special prosecutors whose knowledge, skills and reputation can match those who represent the interest of the accused.
Goolsarran said that the Government also needs to strengthen the investigative capability of the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) if it is seriously committed to bringing to justice those who have been fingered for committing acts that resulted in financial loss to the State and those whose actions collectively and individually contributed to the diminution of the physical integrity of the State, especially through divestment of prime State lands to favoured individuals and groups at giveaway prices.
Speaking with this newspaper yesterday, Minister Ramjattan asserted that the administration is not saying that it is predicting anything. He said that the police are in possession of the files and they have informed him of the difficulties they are experiencing in securing statements from witnesses.
The Minister stated, “So you don’t go and charge with forensic audits. You go and charge with police statements. That is the difficulty. Anand Goolsarran did not get police statements. You need to have that. The police now are getting a couple of them and it will take some time. It is not that the witnesses will forever not want to give evidence, but it will take some time…”
Ramjattan is also of the conviction that it is still possible to hold the feet of current officials to the fire, despite being unable at the moment, to prosecute those of the past who have committed certain acts as revealed by the damning forensic audits.
The Leader of the Alliance for Change also emphasized that the “primary” purpose of the forensic audits was to see what the PPP administration did wrong.
“Even though we have found that, people are unhappy that we are not jailing those past officials. And we are getting lots of blows for that. They are not happy with what the audits uncovered.”
While Ramjattan holds this view, many critics have opined that Guyanese feel a sense of betrayal that when it comes to the forensic audits, which have cost Guyana millions of taxpayers’ dollars.
Critics stressed that the citizenry was promised action on the corruption that was unearthed and to date there has been none.
It was in May 2015 that the Granger-led administration began expending some $133 million of taxpayers’ monies on 45 of the 50 forensic audits to ascertain how the assets of the state were sold, disposed of or transferred under the previous administration. The remaining five audits were sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Some of the firms contracted to conduct the forensic audits included Nigel Hinds Financial Service, Ram and Mc Rae and HLB Seebarran and Co. Goolsarran along with Harryman Parmesar were also contracted to conduct several forensic audits.
Nigel Hinds Financial Service earned some $25M for auditing agencies such as the Guyana Oil Company Limited (Guyoil), the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) and the Guyana Office for Investment (GoInvest).
Ram and McRae bagged some $20M for auditing the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the Guyana Gold Board and the E-Governance Project among others.
Several audits were also launched in July 2015 while others started in later weeks of that year. While the report on NICIL has been completed for months now, criminal proceedings are still to take shape. Those on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) have been completed for a longer period.
The forensic audit into the NFMU has unearthed “some of the most appalling acts of corruption”, according to Junior Finance Minister, Jaipaul Sharma.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Sharma said, “There was just no proper management at this unit. There were instances where you could see that they just lost out on millions of dollars’ worth in fees that they should have ensured they collected. There were some defaulters as well, and the agency just took no action against them.”
“(NFMU) could have collected a lot more revenue. Instead (the entity) allowed a lot of favouritism to take place and as such they lost, I would say, millions of dollars in revenue.
“They allowed their big PPP boys to slip under the radar while others were called upon to pay their dues. In fact, they weren’t collecting from two of their PPP big boys for some time. It was a lot of unfairness that was going on at that agency.”
Sharma had said, “The level of corruption which was taking place at the agency points to the incompetency of those who are managing it.”
The Junior Finance Minister said that the revelations of some of the forensic audits thus far, vindicate the concerns the APNU+AFC had regarding the lack of accountability under the previous administration as well as the stench of corruption in some agencies.
As for the forensic audit launched into the EPA, Sharma had said that it uncovered that the entity has been holding some 15 accounts with over $400M.
Kaieteur News understands that recommendations were made for the monies to be transferred to the Consolidated Fund.
The Forensic audit revealed that the agency was apparently receiving monies from various agencies and opening a new account every time it received large sums.
Sharma explained that the agency should not have done that. He said that it should have held one account and categorized its expenses.
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