Auditor General (AG) Deodat Sharma will launch a forensic audit of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council into millions of dollars in funds provided by Central Government since 2015.
The AG’s decision came when city treasurer, Ron McCalmont, who is legally the financial reporting officer for the council, was absent from yesterday’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting held at Parliament Buildings.
His absence was reportedly due to a doctor’s appointment.
The PAC meeting which was chaired by People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Member of Parliament Irfaan Ali, scrutinised expenditure allocated by Parliament for the Ministry of Communities.
Deputy Treasurer of M&CC, John Douglas, was summoned to the PAC meeting to answer questions in relation to the missing financial statements, but he could not provide proper information on monies expended by the M&CC.
The PAC noted that state auditors have not received vouchers, statements of expenditure or any piece of document that he can verify that City Hall spent $173.5M.
This amount included, Kitty Market, $60M; constabulary training school, $23.9M; city engineer building, $13.5M; constabulary headquarters, $12.9M; Albouystown clinic, $21.5M; and office equipment and furniture, $42.1M.
PAC member and PPP MP, Juan Edghill, raised questions relating to 2016 that the PAC has been seeking to verify.
“We have all of these discrepancies that we couldn’t get answers so I’m not surprised that the treasurer was sick today because that is a lot of weight to carry around; burdensome,” Edghill stated.
According to Edghill, of greater concern is the auditors being unable to find the contracts and the vouchers in one instance, and the furniture can’t be physically verified.
“If I leave Public Accounts and say the Mayor and City Council has misappropriated $42 million, would I be factually correct? They can’t account for it. They say they buy furniture, you can’t see the furniture; you can’t see the contract; you can’t see the payment voucher; you don’t have a cheque to show that it was paid. Where this money went, thin air?” Edghill questioned.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities, Emil McGarrell told the PAC that the Ministry has provided internal auditors to assist the
M&CC and other efforts, which have not produced results.
Edghill’s colleague and PAC Member, Nigel Dharamlall, called on the AG’s office to conduct the forensic audit similar to what was done at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Sharma said that his office has been awaiting the supply of the documents for several months.
He explained that the forensic audit can proceed in the absence of the requested financial documents. Using powers under the forensic audit regulations, Sharma could decide to submit his findings to the police and subsequently the Director of Public Prosecution for criminal investigations.
“A forensic audit is a special investigation and they [City Hall] will be forced to provide the information. If I am not satisfied at the end of the investigation I can take the report directly to the DPP or via the police,” Sharma stated.
The PAC also raised questions about close to $600M paid to garbage contractors at the end of last year since the M&CC, which is struggling to provide financial information, supplied the Ministry with documents for payment.
And then there is $300M allotted for Georgetown restoration programme in 2015. Some $6.2M was expended to purchase a double cab pick-up for the city police; $52.1M for debushing the Le Repentir Cemetery and $241.6M for the restoration of Georgetown.
Some 2012 payment vouchers were examined and several discrepancies observed.
Auditors found 167 instances totalling $159.9 M where there was no evidence of the payment vouchers.
There were instances where approval by the city treasurer was not seen on 140 payment vouchers totalling $143.7M; no evidence of the city’s financial committee approving 48 payments totalling $48.4M; no evidence of receipt or payee acknowledgement for a payment of $750,000 to a contractor and the basis of award of several contracts for the weeding or parapet, desilting of drains and cutting down of trees.
Dharamlall noted that despite the Treasurer and Town Clerk being the statutory officers and naturally holding statutory responsibilities, the decisions executed by those officers are usually approved or are decisions of the council.
“I think from the Mayor and Councillors they have authority over this matter and they need to also be accountable for it,” Dharamlall noted.
The revelations come at a time when the Council is preparing to hold elections for Mayor and Deputy Mayor next month and by the end of the year, councillors will return to the polls hoping to be re-elected.
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