Jan 20, 2021 Letters
Article 223(1) of the Constitution of Guyana states inter-alia; ‘…the Auditor General shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.’
Further on, at 223(5) the Constitution states: ‘The Public Accounts Committee may exercise general supervision over the functioning of the office of the Auditor General in accordance with the Rules, Policies and Procedures Manual for the functioning of the Office of the Auditor General as prepared by the Auditor General and approved by the Public Accounts Committee.’
These two sections, in my view, impose checks and balances between the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and the Office of the Auditor General.
In other words, while the Auditor General is insulated from ‘the direction or control of any person or authority’ at the same time, he is no maverick, since parliament, through the Public Accounts Committee, may (not shall) ‘exercise general supervision over the functioning of the Auditor General…’
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of the word ‘supervision’ is ‘to superintend or oversee the execution of a task, action or work’. This is what is expected of the PAC as regards its role vis-a-vis the Auditor General.
What is more significant about this relationship, is the fact that the Public Accounts Committee must approve a manual on rules, policies and procedures prepared and submitted by the Auditor General.
I interpret this to mean that a draft manual is prepared by the Auditor General and submitted to the PAC for consideration and approval. It could not mean that the Auditor General’s draft manual is a take it or leave it proposition.
Unlike previous Auditor General reports, this time around, because of the heightened public interest in transparency and accountability as well as the media’s persistence in exposing unaccounted public funds, this year’s Auditor General’s report has attracted greater attention.
The public’s and the media’s persistent calls for corrective follow-up actions on the part of the Auditor General’s Office has not gone unnoticed.
In fact, there has been no shortage of questions concerning the use value of the Auditor General’s Report. Times have changed thus the greater demand for corrective action.
But there is a missing link here. The AG’s job is to audit the Public Accounts of Guyana and to submit a report to the Speaker of the National Assembly. What happens when irregularities such as fraud, overpayments, monies unaccounted for and non-compliance with the laws are uncovered, is that the accounting officer at the government agency or department is called upon for an explanation and to take corrective action. End of story.
In other words, those who may have presided over or colluded with others to pilfer tax dollars are slapped on the wrist and told to behave themselves. But they do not, because in future reports, the same deficiencies can be found again and again.
Thus the burning question; is the manual on rules, policies and procedures outdated and, by extension, is there a need for a fresh approach to state auditing in light of: 1) global demand for greater transparency and accountability; 2) greater demand at home for corrective action to remedy the deficiencies and 3) experiences in state auditing accumulated over the years?
The stage for this new approach was laid during the 2015 to 2019 period when MP Irfaan Ali chaired the Public Accounts Committee. His aggressive push for greater accountability by government agencies and departments and his call to name and shame recalcitrant public officers laid the foundation for what, with the political will, portends to be a fresh approach to public accounting laws and regulations.
The next logical question would be whether parliament, through the PAC, has the legal authority as the Auditor General’s supervisory body to request the Auditor General to submit a revised or updated manual to reflect the demands for sanctions or better yet, prosecution?
Further, since the manual treats with rules, policies and procedures for the functioning of the Office of the Auditor General, implicitly, there appears to be room to review, repair and strengthen either the PAC’s mandate and/or more specifically, that of the Auditor General.
To review would mean to consider the merits and demerits of the calls for a more pro-active Auditor General’s Office.
To repair would mean to amend the rules where, and if necessary. And to strengthen would mean, to consider giving the Auditor General’s Office, a fresh set of powers that will go beyond routine investigating and reporting and that would allow, as is the case with GRA and CANU, to legally proffer charges and prosecution where necessary.
In other words, the Accountant General’s Office should, in addition to its current mandate, be designated a constitutional law enforcement agency since its main function is to ensure that public monies are legally and properly accounted for in accordance with the financial regulations of Guyana.
If the Office of the Auditor General is not the suitable institution to be vested with such authority then consideration should be given to creating a new institution that would act as a law enforcement ‘Bridge’ between the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee. That ‘Bridging Authority’ should be vested with the power to subpoena offenders of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act to appear in court to answer to crimes they would have committed.
The point is that year after year, tons of circumstantial evidence of white collar crimes populate the Auditor General’s Reports, yet rarely, notwithstanding limb and branch investigations by the Auditor General is the Guyana Police Force called in to play their role.
The end result is the Auditor General can go no further. That is compounded by the lack of institutional capacity by the police to take the matter further. Consequently, highway robberies populate the Auditor General’s reports year after year.
From all indications, the public’s concern seems to be over the millions, if not billions of taxpayers’ dollars, that have either been frittered away by shysters paid by way of shady contracts, single/sourced to friends and supporters who in turn provide kickbacks as a reward for favours granted.
The nature of his job, places the Auditor General objectively in the fight against corruption since his job is to ensure that payers money is accounted for in accordance with established rules and regulations.
It is in this context that the hue and cry raised in the public domain over lack of prosecution for unaccounted public funds is not without merit.
Every publication and handing over of the Auditor General’s Annual Report is followed by routine laying in the National Assembly and the convening of the Public Accounts Committee to interrogate Permanent Secretaries and Regional Executive Officers. Some issues that appear to be of evidential value are sexed up to make newspaper or social media headlines and that’s where the matters end.
Take for example the unauthorized collection of fuel for vehicles belonging to Government agencies and departments or, monies spent by government for the procurement of private legal services, or payments in full to contractors for unfinished or work never done, or collusion between contractors and engineers to fiddle with the engineer’s estimate, or payments in full to consultants for the design and supervision of work either incomplete or never done.
There are cases where payments to shell companies like the shady Florida-based company for the procurement of 20,000 birth certificates as to Homestretch Development Inc. for the D’Urban Park white elephant. Nothing further has been heard about the birth certificate issue.
Questions have been justifiably raised about how many investigations conducted by the Auditor General’s Office have been successfully pursued by law enforcement.
Deficiencies remain concerning full payments for abandoned projects, overpayment of advances, frittering away of public funds, violations of financial and accountability laws and unethical behaviour of public officials who, regrettably, act as facilitators or influence peddlers.
In the final analysis, the challenge is not only to report and investigate the malpractices and illegalities, but to change the rules to ensure decisive prosecutorial action is taken to stop the siphoning off of public funds into the pockets of unscrupulous hustlers.
The rules must be changed to
Clement J. Rohee
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