A showdown ensued at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, as PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali and Regional Executive Officer (REO) Rupert Hopkinson faced off over the Region Two administration’s financial indiscretions.
According to Ali, a number of disturbing trends could be observed from the explanations given to the Auditor General’s 2016 findings. He cited a section of the foreword of Hopkinson’s response where he noted the administration was not disputing it used current allocations to fund capital projects.
“Are you aware that this is a contravention?” the PAC Chairman asked Hopkinson,
who replied in the affirmative. “And knowing that you are aware this is a contravention, why did you contravene the regulations?” Ali asked.
“Let me preface my response by saying that in all these cases, the heads of programmes met, and it is with their concurrence that this programme (was done),” Hopkinson replied.
Asked to confirm that he was admitting to breaching the law with the concurrence of the heads of programmes, Hopkinson said, “Not really.” According to the REO, all the projects were of an emergency nature.
At this point, Ali slammed Hopkinson for being aware of breaches of the law, yet going ahead with the projects out of the belief that they were in the best interest of the region.
“We were not aware of the breaches at the time,” Hopkinson said in response to Ali’s admonitions. “We were all caught up in the fact that we saved a lot of money.
So we said, ‘Look, this is what we want done.’ We saved $250 million, we were excited about the fact that we saved,” Hopkinson replied.
“And your excitement led to the breach?” Ali asked, to which Hopkinson responded, “Yes sir.”
The REO’s responses did little to help his case, and an un-amused Ali berated the officer for his responses, proposing to the Finance Secretary that disciplinary measures be pursued against Hopkinson.
“A way forward has already been established. I am proposing that the Finance Secretary take the necessary action that he’s empowered to take in relation to this. I would say that he cares very little about what we’re saying, and his response via this document is even more worrying when you look at the concluding paragraphs,” Ali declared.
“When you’re functioning as an accounting officer in the public service, rules and regulations are there to ensure checks and balance, transparency, accountability to standards. The Auditor General audits according to certain standards, and when an accounting officer says to you he knows what the rules are and out of excitement he went ahead without adhering to the rules, I worry,” Ali said.
PAC Member Juan Edghill questioned how the administration was able to breach the law in spite of the presence of the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMAS). He expressed worry that regions were fudging the numbers when approaching Central Government, and that budget line items are being inflated.
Finance Secretary Hector Butts noted that the matter will be taken back to the Ministry, so it could be dealt with. He assured the PAC that its members would then be provided with an update on the way forward.
Hopkinson is under fire for using savings from Current Expenditures in order to execute capital projects in Region Two. Such actions must have the approval of Finance Minister Winston Jordan.
The projects included the construction of a bus shed at Dartmouth, construction of the Anna Regina Health Centre, construction of a fence at Unity Park Phase 1, construction of a fence at Unity Park Phase 2, construction of sitting area at Cotton Field, and construction of a landing at Liberty, Pomeroon.
Hopkinson’s contention is that the works were of an emergency nature, and were requested from the heads of programmes within the regional administration. In his official response, he has also stressed that the projects will benefit residents.
Notably, Hopkinson, in his explanation, had stated, “We seek pardon for any contravention of policy on the grounds that the region saved $500 million from 2016 to date… On this score, the administration of Pomeroon-Supenaam Region is of the opinion that the region should be commended for its judicious spending of Government budgetary allocations…in the face of a culture of dishonesty.”