Expect 2015 PAC report by September – Edghill

…as snail pace of previous Committee causes backlog

With the current Public Accounts Committee (PAC) having had to complete three years’ worth of backlog, it is aiming to achieve something else – the completion of its report after months of grilling Government accounting officers over the findings in the 2015 report of the Auditor General (AG).

This is according to PAC member and Opposition parliamentarian Juan Edghill when he was questioned about the progress of the Committee. At present, reports for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 that were supposed to have been completed by past committees were only laid during Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly.

One of the many exchanges during the PAC sessions, with Chairman Irfaan Ali demanding answers from accounting officers

“The reason why we are now laying those backlogs is because the now Government while they were in Opposition never finalised their Public Accounts reports,” Edghill related. “The Public Accounts [Committee] was chaired by (now Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl) Greenidge.”

“They never finalised the reports, so what is being laid in Parliament right now is backlogs. We have just completed the examination of the 2015 Auditor General’s Report in a matter of months. By the time we come out back from the recess, before we start examining 2016 Auditor General’s Report, which will be tabled by the end of September, we should have a finalised report to lay in the Assembly.”

Following the consideration of the 2015 Auditor General’s report, followed by the PAC’s own report, the Government will have to submit a Treasury Memorandum. This includes a commitment, in writing, to either adopt or reject the AG’s many findings and recommendations.

Excluding the PAC sittings where accounting officers were grilled about the fiscal excesses, the memorandum will be the first time the coalition Government will have to formally account for financial anarchy found by the Auditor General to have occurred since it took office in 2015 and documented in his report.

Fiscal abuses

These fiscal infractions include abuse of Guyana’s Contingency Fund and widespread overpayment of contractors. The PAC, before which the 2015 AG Report currently rests, has been the scene of turmoil for the past few months with several accounting officers having to be cautioned and evicted from the Parliament’s chambers for being untruthful to the Committee.

The last Treasury memorandum to be issued was one in 2013, pursuant to the PAC’s report on the AG’s findings of the year 2009. It, therefore, means that the PAC will have its work cut out before getting to the coalition Government’s spending.

Already, the Government has adopted a defensive stance on the AG’s report, with Finance Minister Winston Jordan being heavily critical of some of the findings. In fact, Jordan went so far to state that the AG’s interpretation of what counts as emergency spending “doesn’t count under the law”.

But the 2015 AG’s report had exposed instances of the Contingency Fund being abused under the present Government. One culprit cited by the report had been the Office of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.

AG Deodat Sharma in his report stated that Nagamootoo’s office in December 2015 requested an advance of $11 million from the Contingency Fund, and stated the reason for the advance was for the Government Information Agency (GINA) to offset part of its debt to the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL), publisher of the Guyana Chronicle newspaper.

The money was used for the debt, but a portion was also used for another purpose, which constitutes a breach of the financial regulations.

This is based on the fact that the payment of GINA’s debt to GNNL does not constitute an emergency but rather a routine expenditure and, therefore, the Contingency Fund should not have been used. This expense should have been budgeted for in the annual budget.

According to Sharma’s report, an examination of the requisite payment vouchers and other supporting documents revealed that GINA paid the GNNL the sum of $9.45 million, while the remaining $1.55 million was used to pay employees of GINA non-taxable bonuses for 2015.

The Contingency Fund was established as a sub-fund to the Consolidated Fund, commonly referred to as the Treasury. The use of the Contingency Fund for the routine expenditure is a breach of the financial principles.

Under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 2003, Section 41 (3), “The Minister, when satisfied that an urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen need for expenditure has arisen – (a) for which no monies have been appropriated or for which the sum appropriated is insufficient; (b) for which monies cannot be reallocated as provided for under this Act; or (c) which cannot be deferred without injury to the public interest, may approve a Contingencies Fund advance as an expenditure out of the Consolidated Fund.”

Besides other instances of abuse of the Contingency Fund, there have been cases of overpayment to contractors.