Oct 03, 2022 Letters
Guyana is watching, waiting. They are watching and waiting to absorb what happens next in this shadowy, slightly messy, matter of the NRF and tax payments made by the Government of Guyana on behalf of Exxon. It would enlighten all on how well this national oil fund is overseen. As matters stand currently, the starting gun is in the President’s hands.
The Audit Office issued its opinion that all is well, while the Auditor General made clear where he stood. His position, through a nifty handoff, was check with the GRA since it is the entity that has responsibility for issuing the related tax receipts. There is a problem: the GRA has laryngitis. Since the Audit Office balked at retracting its original questionable report, and issuing a sanitised one, on the NRF, whatever its people deemed fit to do, and the GRA isn’t speaking publicly, civil society raised the bar several notches to the highest level in this land. Article 13 appealed to His Excellency, President Ali in writing for him to consent to use the authority of his good offices, and order the release of all the associated documents. The President has not responded; most likely he is busy with the demands of his office. Hopefully, he will address this sticky issue soon.
As seen, President Ali has a golden opportunity to demonstrate how much he is about the vaunted transparency on which he loves to make dogged speeches. I humbly suggest to the President that he proves how much about accountability he is. He must make good by passing the instructions. There is one hiccup, and it has to do with these troublesome audits, and those quarrelsome voices in civil society that will not take no for an answer. It is one of the difficulties of democracy, this business about having to furnish answers, and having any sonny, dummy, and ‘jumbie’ calling for what should not be their business, anyway.
My concern is not so much of what the President does or doesn’t do. I am more focused on how auditors sometimes operate in their auditing world. To put sweetly, in their failure to check as they should, they overbalance. To tender more unsparingly, I think that the Audit Office overcompensated regarding what would please the Government, by giving it a pass. There was the basis for correction, but the audit chief is not going into those muddy waters; he passed that baby onto the GRA. More broadly, it is peculiar how audits operate on occasion. History is the best teacher, and from its pages, precedents and parallels abound.
From memory, I dredge up what PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) did during the Obama healthcare wars. PWC was engaged to conduct a study on costs, and its reports noted that costs would go up more swiftly and higher than existed at the time, if a plan was approved. The Obama White House warriors went into action and educated PWC on how much business it does with the U.S. Government. No threats were issued, but PWC got the message. Two days later, this respected (once) auditing powerhouse reversed its findings in a haze of weak corporate speak that made it look professionally shabby. Because Guyana’s Audit Office and its seniors are State workers, the issue is of continuity and holding on, who could get the job done a certain way, and how convincingly. Separately, private auditors doing public business understand that it is good business to manage smartly the depth of their probing, and the wording and types of their findings, if they decide to flag material matters at all. In the bigger picture, this is what worries with that ongoing audit of Exxon’s billions in bills. Since it is a give and take world in which we live, I ask myself about possible quid pro quos, both before and afterwards. Commerce has one colour only, that of money. More business is better business; new business openings are just as welcomed.
Considering all this, the President is in a pickle. If he orders release of papers, he may embarrass his own people. If he doesn’t, there will be many ugly speculations and conclusions about what his government is really up to, on not only oil, but most matters. And how the auditors facilitate.
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