Audit Office to seek criminal charges over non-cooperation at City Hall
2nd forensic audit
…as PAC hauls M&CC over coals for lack of records
On a day when the Treasurer of the Georgetown municipality was absent owing to a “doctor’s visit” and the accounting officer who was present had no answers, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hauled the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) over the proverbial coals for the collective failure to account for monies.
But with even Communities Ministry Permanent Secretary Emil McGarrell complaining of lack of cooperation from City Hall, Auditor General Deodat Sharma revealed that another audit would be carried out at the municipality. He made it clear that approaches would be made to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Chambers this time around, if the intransigence continued.
“Normally, in the regulations of the audit act it says that when I finish a forensic audit I can send it to the DPP for advice. The Public Accounts Committee was disappointed with the type of information we’re getting. Even the PS says he can’t get the cooperation in terms of the relevant information that he needs,” Sharma told Guyana Times afterwards.
The DPP is usually called in when advice on criminal charges is being sought. In the case of City Hall, this will be done if non-cooperation over the supply of records continues.
The PAC met in the National Assembly on Monday, when McGarrell and accounting officers from various municipalities were made to give account for some $401 million in capital subventions.
There are nine municipalities and 62 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs). The Audit Office of Guyana had found that as at December 31, 2016, $396.5 million was expended. From the start, City Hall’s financial status, how it spent almost $175 million and its failure to submit documentation dating from 2005 posed a challenge to the PAC.
PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali questioned McGarrell on whether he had come with copies of meetings pertaining to the City Council’s financial statements, documents previously promised by the Georgetown municipality’s treasurer. McGarrell had not walked with such and he revealed that the Treasurer, Ron McAlmont, had been unable to attend because of a doctor’s appointment.
When asked by committee member Juan Edghill whether there was anyone else who could supply that information, the Permanent Secretary indicated that only the Deputy Treasurer was available. Edghill then ordered McGarrell to send someone to fetch the Deputy Treasurer from City Hall, as it was within walking distance.
“On our last appearance, the Ministry’s internal auditors would have made several attempts to meet with the Treasurer to have this prepared and submitted. They were written and even up to our appearance today, it was indicated that this information had to be provided,” McGarrell explained to the Committee, when asked what efforts he had made to get the minutes.
But when he appeared, City Hall’s Deputy Treasurer John Douglas was no wiser when it came to the city’s finances. Douglas admitted that he was not present at the PAC hearings last year, but that he was aware of the documents that were supposed to be provided. Even though he was aware, however, he had not come with the documents.
He made promises to supply the requested paperwork by today (Tuesday). In view of the lack of information, Douglas had to be asked by the Committee what he was actually privy to as the Deputy Treasurer.
Last year, the AG’s attempts to conduct an audit were stymied by documents not being provided. According to Sharma at the time, there were a number of gaps that remained unfilled in the investigation.
He had noted that as a result of these missing and sometimes even damaged documents, there would be a number of pages in the final report that would carry disclaimers. This is all despite City Hall being the ones who wrote to the Auditor General’s Office requesting an audit.
It was at one time reported that during the final phase of the audit, the probe was stalled due to this lack of cooperation. Things had reportedly reached a point necessitating a letter to be sent to Town Clerk Royston King, over the undue delays being caused by City Hall officials not making the necessary documents available for the auditors.
There have been persistent calls for City Hall to be fully audited. Back in 2015, the Georgetown M&CC had received two grants under the Communities Ministry’s Capital Programme for the “Georgetown Restoration Programme”, in addition to the “Emergency Solid Waste Management of Haags Bosch Sanitary Landfill”.
Each multimillion-dollar grant was based on Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between the Communities Ministry’s Permanent Secretary and the capital city’s Town Clerk. According to the Auditor General’s 2015 Report, there were several “discrepancies” in the way the allotted money was spent during the year.