Apr 11, 2017 News
Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Eight, Potaro-Siparuni, Rafel Downes, was asked to leave Parliament yesterday after his continued failure to respond to questions posed by members of the Public Accounts
His constant double answers and evident failure to respond to direct questions resulted in Financial Secretary, Hector Butts, openly expressing his frustration and utter disgust with the performance of the REO.
Adding to the criticisms and upbraiding received by the REO several members of the PAC also admonished Downes for the evident discrepancies in his responses. They called on him to recognize that his performance was cause for serious concern.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Irfaan Ali, reminded the REO about several commitments made to the PAC last year. He reminded Downes that he had also given an undertaking by the PAC to have several records and actions taken, however one year later nothing was done thus fueling the frustration of several members.
Bishop Juan Edghill, called for stronger actions to be taken against persons who come before PAC and lie or deliberately mislead the PAC.
Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, urged the REO to desist from his ‘gaff’. She told him that it is serious business and as the accounting officer he has a responsibility to properly account for taxpayers’ monies.
“Last year you were right here saying the very same thing and yet you gave us the assurance that you will take certain actions. You haven’t done so. What is the reason for your gaff? All we are seeing is you talking but nothing to demonstrate that you have taken any actions. The decisions that were taken by PAC you haven’t acted upon them.”
Downes had to be cautioned several times by members of the PAC to answer the direct questions that were being put to him. Several of the issues surrounded the overpayment of salaries and deductions. There was also overpayment to several contractors.
Addressing the issue of log books the REO further fuelled the frustration of the PAC Chairman. This resulted in Ali immediately calling the meeting to an end and instructing the Auditor General to launch a special audit and investigation into Region Eight.
When asked why five of the defaulting contractors who owe the region millions of dollars were once again awarded contracts in 2016 the REO could not answer muttering that he has received oral commitments of coming to a settlement. However, this irked Bishop Edghill who questioned his competency to serve the region as its Regional Executive Officer.
He questioned the REO about systems that were not put in place thus ensuring that taxpayers’ hard earned cash could have been retrieved with a firm written commitment by the very contractors who were still seeking work from the region.
Member Charrandas Persaud suggested that lawyers’ letters should be sent to contractors who have received overpayments and seem reluctant to repay the monies that they still owed the region.
“This may sound as though I am advertising but no contractor wants to receive a letter from a lawyer regarding monies owed so if the REO considers this approach I am sure that we can have some progress in this,” he said.
According to Downes, attempts made by his Personnel Officer have not borne any fruit as from the 12 contractors written to only one has acknowledged receipt of the letter sent. However, Irfaan Ali questioned why these persons were only written to on December 27, 2016 and why they were only pursued further in February.
He quizzed the REO on his competence and whether he was serious about retrieving the monies that were outstanding
“Mr. Chairman all I can say is that I am sorry that I have been very tardy in executing my responsibilities but I must say that after the last PAC meeting I had put a committee in motion to address 52 issues which would have seen us using a week to address each,” Downes said.
“…However I must say that this did not materialize for many reasons and as the REO I am giving the assurance that I will have the promised issues addressed.”
The Financial Secretary, Dr. Butts, in admonishing the REO expressed his utter disgust at his performance while unbraiding him for not accepting his open door policy so as to have several issues addressed and or clarified.
“I have seen many regions coming to me to meet with me so as to better understand their roles and policies here but you have failed on several occasions to attend meetings at my office. You have not been accepting my open door invitation and its evidentfrom your performance today.
“I will be frank and say that I am at a point where I am not just disgusted where you are not following set out policies,” he said.
He added, “…Region Eight is a region that has not been coming in and despite the many meetings being hosted by us you have not been attending and I am very frustrated as you have not been coming in.”
Chairman Ali said, “As an REO you cannot bluff your way around as you are bluffing your way around. We will end the meeting today so that you can deliver on the commitments that you had made one year ago and the other instructions that were given to you by PAC.”
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