AG’s report on fuel import racket sent to Police – Finance Minister
The probe conducted by the Auditor General’s Office into the alleged fuel import racket at the Guyana Oil Company has confirmed that there were indeed “inappropriate” actions by now former GuyOil officials, but the AG has left it up to the Guyana Police Force to determine whether these acts were illegal.
This is according to Senior Minister with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, who told reporters on Thursday that he has advised GuyOil Chairman Paul Cheong to hand the Auditor General’s report over to the Police.
“On whether there was any illegality, that’s a question that the Auditor General deferred to the Police and said that the appropriate authority to inquire into that matter is the Police. And so I’ve said to the Chairman of the Board that the report should be sent to the Police for them to examine and determine whether they believe there is any basis for any action on their part,” Dr Singh explained.
Further, the Finance Minister pointed out that the AG report also cited “inappropriate” actions by several former senior GuyOil officials – something that Government had already concluded. He added, too, that the report made recommendations for certain disciplinary actions; which, again, Government had already taken.
“The Auditor General’s report has confirmed a number of things which we’ve pretty much ascertained. First, that there was no contract with this company [Aaron’s Realty]. The Auditor General also looked at [another] range of matters and concluded that a number of officials were involved in inappropriate communications with the company, in violation of the [GuyOil’s] standard procedures for procuring fuel. In this case, the Auditor General recommended disciplinary actions against these officials… and as you’d know, we’ve already taken actions against one or two of these officials,” he outlined.
Back in April, President Irfaan Ali had disclosed that GuyOil’s Board Member Akanni Blair and Chief Financial Officer Shawn Persaud were removed from their respective posts after they were found to have gone beyond their mandates and engaged in unauthorised communications with Aaron’s Realty (ARI), which claimed that it was contracted to import fuel for the state-run oil company, but GuyOil went back on the deal.
Amidst this scandal, GuyOil’s General Manager at the time, Trevor Bassoo, had tendered his resignation, but contended that it had nothing to do with the fuel controversy, but was as a result of “the recent work environment”.
Further, Minister Singh told reporters on Thursday that the AG report also fingered other individuals at the oil company for having “inappropriate” communication with the company in question, and consequently, he has instructed the Board to look into this.
He further outlined that there were other observations made by the Auditor General during the probe, that Government is currently considering including in the strengthening of internal systems.
“I’ve asked the Board to examine all aspects of the report very closely…and to ensure that they take all appropriate corrective actions to address the issues identified by the Auditor General… I’ve also said to the company that they need to strengthen their systems; they need to follow transparent processes. There have to be very clear processes for procuring items or supplies that must be based on a transparent and competitive process, and that came out in the Auditor General’s report as well,” Dr Singh posited.
According to the Finance Minister, “We have no room in this Government for corrupt behaviour, and at a minimum, the officials concerned in this matter exercised very poor judgement in this matter… When you hold important positions in such companies, we expect you to exercise better judgement.”
This fuel import controversy came to light in April when businessman Jason Aaron of Aaron’s Realty (ARI) alleged that officials at GuyOil had contracted him to bring in fuel, but subsequently cancelled the arrangement after GuyOil got a “sweeter” deal.
However, GuyOil Chairman Paul Cheong had denied these claims, saying that while the state-owned oil company did have discussions with ARI, the company was never contracted to bring in fuel.
ARI had even sent a legal letter to GuyOil, seeking a number of clarifications on the issue and pointing out that it had already imported fuel based on the verbal arrangement.
But Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), Dr Mahender Sharma, subsequently told Guyana Times that ARI does not have, and never applied for, a fuel import licence. At the time, Sharma said investigations were underway to ascertain how exactly the company imported the fuel it claimed to have brought in.
Meanwhile, Government has also disclosed that there are several other probes ongoing at GuyOil into “massive corruption” including a racket between the state-run oil company and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).
Last month, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had revealed that a forensic audit had found that nearly $1 billion was stolen. It was reported that this happened between 2015 and 2020.
“An audit was just done that had GuyOil and the army implicated in a scandal…bulk carriers would pick up the fuel, take it to Camp Ayanganna, where it would be signed as delivered, but then it would be taken, diverted to another location…at times somewhere across the [Demerara River, Region Three]…in just one vehicle alone, $995 million was stolen in fuel from one vehicle. The charges will be laid soon,” Jagdeo had stated.