The coalition administration has issued a call to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to ensure it exercises its power to sanction all those heads of department who fail to show up to a PAC meeting when summoned.
The Government, through the Ministry of Finance, made this known in its Treasury Memorandum. This document was laid in the National Assembly on Thursday. It provides the steps the government intends to take to correct the weaknesses of its systems to ensure accountability and transparency in the use of taxpayers’ dollars.
In addition to reminding the PAC of its duty and legal right to sanction delinquent officers, the Finance Ministry has issued a circular to the heads of Budget Agencies, stating that they are required to be present at meetings of the PAC as summoned.
PAC members have indicated to Kaieteur News that the sentiments expressed by the Government in its Treasury Memorandum on this matter are certainly welcomed.
The absenteeism of heads of budget agencies is but one of the many concerns the PAC has highlighted in the last two years.
In fact, PAC Members have said that the disturbing financial transgressions by budget agencies, which are documented through Auditor General, Deodat Sharma year after year in his reports, point to the need for serious action to be taken so as to protect the wastage of taxpayers’ dollars.
According to the Committee, its engagements for the last fifty meetings in the National Assembly were occasioned in a large way, to addressing issues raised in the Auditor General’s reports on the public accounts of Guyana.
The PAC said that the evidence emanating from these encounters suggests that they were not unique to those years. The Committee said that this in itself, points to the need for a revisit of the training and/or selection methods employed by the Government.
“Correspondingly, the need has arisen for weighted sanctions to be employed on errant Accounting Officers as a means of reducing leakage. The fact that no Accounting Officer is on record of being sanctioned for inefficiency, fraud or dereliction of duty, has allowed a certain culture to grow,” the PAC stated.
The Committee said that this is evident in the types of frivolous responses some Accounting Officers provided when queries were made about serious financial irregularities at their agencies. Hence, the Committee said that its oversight role as guardian of public expenditure is in a way called into question by the public.
The Committee said that it was heartened by the evidence of improvement in a number of agencies. However, it noted that there continues to be systemic challenges faced by some agencies, especially the Regions, for which training and or the recycling of staff did not address.
Additionally, the Committee said that over the years, there have been a number of challenges regarding Budget Agencies.
The Committee observed that across such agencies, Accounting Officers and/or engineering staff appear to persistently sign off on incomplete projects. It said that Accounting Officers were found in many instances, not implementing appropriate measures to avoid the recurrence of overpayment.
Compounding the situation is the fact that Government Agencies seemed reluctant to use the performance-based gratuity (specifically the withholding of increments) of Accounting Officers as a means of promoting efficiency.
Additionally, the Committee said that the re-cycling of Accounting Officers who had been cited for inefficiency from one agency to another remains an irritant.
The PAC said that it has also observed that in numerous cases, Performance Bonds and Insurance were seldom utilized as surety by Ministries/Regions against shoddy and incomplete work done by contractors. In this regard as well, it found that there is a lack of clearly defined policies as it relates to invoking the Insurance and Performance bonds at the appropriate time.
The PAC noted, too, that Log Books not being properly maintained continues to be a perennial problem across Ministries/Departments/Regions.
Furthermore, the PAC has found that the Auditor General’s Engineering Department appears overstretched, given the number of expected interventions and the increase in capital works across agencies.
The PAC noted that another frustrating challenge is the fact that Accounting Officers when challenged regarding the comments in the Auditor General’s reports for signing off on incomplete projects, are in the habit of behaving as though the contractors are automatically and legally liable for rectifying the defects.
The Committee said that a significant number of issues appearing before it are as a result of failure to put in place appropriate or timely policies and/or remedies. One such example it cited, was the unclear arrangements for the writing off of losses, which keeps recurring as queries annually.
The PAC also expressed its dissatisfaction with the fact that budget agencies are taking, on average, one year (minimal) to rectify queries highlighted in the Auditor General’s Report. It stressed that in no uncertain terms, changes have to be made in this regard.
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