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Jan 31, 2023 News
– Auditor General says eight-member committee to be established by March
By Davina Bagot
Kaieteur News – The Audit Office of Guyana will be boosting its capacity with a new eight-member body this year dedicated to conducting oil and gas audits.
Auditor General (AG), Deodat Sharma told this newspaper yesterday that the Committee is to be established by March. This special committee will be tasked with specific functions according to the AG. For instance, he noted that the Auditor General’s Office will be fine-tuning spending by the Government of Guyana from the nation’s Natural Resource Fund (NRF) or the oil account.
He said: “We are the auditors for the Natural Resource Fund so all the expenditure when the money goes into the Natural Resource Fund and when it comes out there – like last year, it was US$607 million Budget support to the government so we will have to audit all those expenditures.”
Sharma was asked to elaborate on how the team would be tracking this spending since the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government has signaled their intent to transfer funds from the NRF to the consolidated fund, thereby blending the various revenue streams. This was a sore concern for transparency activists but the Auditor General (AG) clarified that the Investment Committee will be tasked with outlining the projects funded by oil money. He explained: “If you look at the various committees that they (government) set up, one of the committees that I think has been set up will determine how the money will be spent, so you will have to check with the committees at the BoG (Bank of Guyana) that is overseeing the Natural Resource Fund. They would have that responsibility to say okay we are going to be building x, y and z. So, in other words, this Committee will say exactly how it was spent. We would then check to verify whatever they say that the money was used for that it went to the project intended.”
Secondly, the oil and gas committee will be updating a report it conducted between 2019 and 2020 to assess Guyana’s preparedness to respond to an oil spill. He said this will be undertaken so that the country can know its present status in that regard. Thirdly, Sharma noted that the capacity of the eight –member team will be boosted so as to ensure that Guyanese are conducting their own audits to verify its share of profits from the offshore operations.
According to him, “Remember they have contacted an auditor to audit out there what is happening in terms of the oil…we don’t know if we should get US$100 million or if we are supposed to get more and what is the procedure so that’s the part that the World Bank Auditors are doing. So we have to build our capacity also to understand what they are doing and eventually we might take over that type of audit also in the future.”
Sharma said that this team of auditors will be carrying out similar functions to the Oil and Gas committee employed by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). He was keen to point out that his eight-member body already has engineers ready to verify the money government expended from the NRF for infrastructure and other projects. As it regard the updated report on Guyana’s preparedness for an oil spill, he said that this will take some time.
The new committee was announced on Monday during the consideration of Estimates for Budget 2023. It was Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Volda Lawrence who followed up on an increase in wages for the Audit Office that led to the disclosure by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira. “I note the revised figure for 2022 is some $819,562,000 as opposed to the 2023 amount budgeted of $109,117,000. I am asking what would be the additional categories of employees I assume would be added to the Audit Office and could we know whether there is a special department that is looking at oil and gas and what are the different portfolios therein,” the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP enquired. Teixeira pointed out that the reason for the increase was two-fold. In addition to the across-the-board eight percent salary increase, she referenced the new oil and gas committee for the Audit Office.
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