Nov 18, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Regional engineer for Region Eight (Potaro Siparuni), Latchman Singh found himself in a middle of a quarrel between members of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, when he claimed that he was forced to sign off on documents for payments of projects which were unchecked and in some cases, incomplete under the A Partnership For National Unity +Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) administration.
Singh claimed he was being victimised and feared losing his job for failing to comply with the directives of the regional administration when he was instructed to sign off on various projects. The projects were all flagged in the 2016 Auditor General Report for overpayments, unverified incomplete work and in some cases; no works were done at all. For that period, a budget of $248.2 million had been allocated to the region for maintenance of buildings and infrastructure.
According to the report, questions surrounded the work that was done at the Kato Guest House, the administration building for Kato playfield, and the repairs to a revetment at Kawa creek, in Region Eight, Potaro-Siparuni.
In the instance of repairs to the revetment of the Kawa Creek, the sum of $1.4 million was doled out to a contractor but despite being paid in full, the contractor had not even started the work at the time of the report.
Additionally, the audit report said that the payments were not recovered. On Monday, regional officers from Region Eight were made to answer queries surrounding the expenditure for unverified projects. During the engagement, Singh admitted that he signed off on documents falsely certifying works as complete, in fear of losing his job under the previous administration. He claimed that this was done even though he did not verify the works himself.
The Regional engineer claimed that he was instructed by the Regional Executive Officer (REO) at the time, Rafael Downes. Downes was eventually fired from his post in 2017. Singh’s response to the PAC sparked different reactions from members of the committee.
For one, APNU+AFC Ganesh Mahipaul said that he found the claims made by the engineer hard to believe. But Government Chief Whip and PAC member, Gail Teixeira reminded the Chair that the officers are legally bound to speak the truth. “… I think, Mr. Chair, that the officer should be given the benefit of the doubt and given time to provide the committee with proof,” Teixeira stated.
With regard to this, Singh told the PAC: “I don’t have any documentation. But Mr. Chairman, I have a documented letter that I wrote to the REO to say that I am signing these documents under duress, because I was not having an opportunity to travel to check the work for myself.”
He explained further that he initially refused to sign off on the work.
Singh said: “The first time I refused to sign a voucher without visiting and verifying because it was not truthful and factual. I was sent on 52 days of leave. After returning from lunch one day, I was called to the admin office and handed a letter saying I have to proceed on 52 days annual leave.” PAC member Juretha Fernandes was still not satisfied with the explanation given by the officer.
She told the committee: “I have a difficulty with the way in which this discussion is progressing. When someone is employed, they have a job description. It is unacceptable for someone to come before this committee and say they signed a document because they were forced to sign a document.
Fernandes asserted “Nobody could force you to do something illegal and you go ahead and do it.” Her response prompted uproar from members of the PAC present at the session as well as those joining virtually. As a result, Mahipaul had to call the session to order by threatening to mute the microphones for those joining the session virtually. This is not the first time that the regional engineer made claims against the previous administration before the PAC. Back in 2019, Singh said that this was a grave injustice and discrimination against him, while noting that he has a family to support.
He expressed the conviction that he was being victimised because he had disclosed malpractice and misappropriation of Government funds by the REO at a Parliamentary PAC meeting in 2018.
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