-says will “vigourously pursue” bond scandal
“Twist it and turn it how you want. If you take money from the Contingencies Fund without fulfilling the necessary criteria then it constitutes abuse.”
That notion was expressed by Auditor General, Deodat Sharma during a recent interview with Kaieteur News.
Sharma’s comments come on the heels of the most recent report to be laid in the National Assembly by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The said report speaks to the need for the Auditor General and the Office of the Finance Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, to resolve the issue of the abuse of the Contingencies Fund.
For years, there has been a division between the two on the subject matter. But in the eyes of the Auditor General, the law is very clear about what constitutes an abuse.
“We have our views at the Audit Office and those at the Ministry of Finance have theirs. But mine is that there are clear conditions for the use of the Contingencies Fund. It must be urgent, it must be unforeseen, cannot be postponed without jeopardizing the public interest, and no other provision has been made for it.”
Sharma continued, “Those things have to be fulfilled for me. Now you cannot come later down the line and say to me that you had to buy this vehicle and so the money had to be taken from the Contingencies Fund. If you were doing proper budgeting, you are supposed to know that and plan for it.”
The Auditor General added, “You cannot come now to say that I don’t know what was the purpose of the vehicle, and I don’t know the circumstances under which you or a Ministry really needed it and so I cannot call it an abuse. If you don’t purchase the vehicle, will it jeopardize the nation’s wellbeing? And that is the critical question.”
Sharma also cited the use of the Contingencies Fund by the APNU+AFC Government for the Sussex Street storage bond. In this regard, the Auditor General said that he is still to see how the bond was “urgent, unforeseen and of great national importance.”
He said that the bond scandal is one issue that he intends to “vigourously pursue.”
Sharma added, “And you see how this whole bond scandal turned out? No urgent medical supplies were there, yet they turned around and used the Fund for it. But trust me, I will query it.”
The Auditor General did note that he cannot take action against the Finance Minister for the use of the Contingencies Fund. He said that under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, it is the Finance Secretary who has the power to take disciplinary action for abuse of that kind.
“But I doubt that is going to happen. That is like the Finance Secretary taking action against himself,” added Sharma.
Furthermore, in his latest report, Sharma criticized the Granger administration for dipping its hands into the Fund without having just cause. 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.
But Finance Minister Winston Jordan has refuted those claims.
Jordan had 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 emphasized 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 had 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.”
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