With $1B budget, Audit Office prepared to scrutinise spending of oil monies

…funds also budgeted for Youth Council, Commissioner of Information

The Government has made it clear that the Audit Office of Guyana, which has a legal duty that will encompass auditing inflows and expenditures of oil revenue from the Natural Resource Fund (NRF), is equipped to take on this important task.
The NRF Act was signed into law last year and the monies in the fund will be used in this year’s $553 billion budget. During the first day of examining the budget estimates, Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament (MP) David Patterson questioned whether monies were allocated for the Audit Office to track oil revenue.
According to Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Gail Teixeira, the Audit Office has been preparing for and is mandated to do exactly that under the Natural Resource Fund Act signed into law last year.

Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Gail Teixeira

“The Audit Office has been preparing to track revenue coming into the coffers of the Natural Resources Fund… the Audit Office is building its capacity to audit exploration, extraction and production of oil in the oil sector. The Natural Resource Fund will be audited in accordance with the Natural Resource Fund Act.”
“The Auditor General under the Act, the Natural Resources Fund has a role to play in terms of Section 31, that an external audit of the accounts, records and other documents relating to the fund shall be undertaken annually by the Auditor General, who may engage internationally recognised auditing firms who may assist with the discharge of the external audit functions,” Teixeira said.
Teixeira explained that the Audit Office has the ability and noted that the need for any further technical expertise will be determined at the requisite time. In fact, she assured that the 2023 budget is likely to also contain provisions to further build the Audit Office’s capabilities.

Commissioner of Information Charles Ramson Sr

Additionally, Teixeira said that the Public Accounts Committee is expected to lend its support for any further expansion of the Audit Office. Teixeira further explained that monies are included for the audit office to transition to a paperless system, with various software licenses.
“In terms of the software licenses, $9.6 million is allocated to IDA and $1.65 to TeamMate. And as you know, TeamMate is more related to a paperless system and IDA is a tool for assisting in auditing,” Teixeira said.
“They’re in phase one of the project to move towards a paperless audit. But as you’re well aware if you move around the country with 80 Local Authorities and 10 Regional Democratic Councils, State or agencies or Government agencies, you still have to be dealing with quite a volume of paper.”

The Audit Office of Guyana

Other allocations
The allocation of monies for other purposes was also probed, including money for the Youth Advisory Council that has been touted by President Dr Irfaan Ali. A sum of $60 million has been set aside for the council in this year’s budget.
Responding to questions from the Opposition, Teixeira explained that the intention is to ensure the council is fully functional by the end of April. Last year’s allocation had gone towards ensuring the setting up of a secretariat within the Office of the President.
“$60 million has been allocated for the Youth Advisory Council for which the President will be launching by the end of the first quarter. A Technical Coordinating Committee had been established in 2021 and that have completed the terms of reference.”
“I am advised that the President will be meeting with the youth arms of the various political parties to encourage them to participate in the Youth Advisory Council,” Teixeira further explained.
It was also revealed during the examination of the budget estimates that retired Judge and Senior Counsel Charles Ramson Snr, who formerly served as Commissioner of Information from 2013 to 2018, has been rehired to the position.
According to Teixeira, a sum of $40 million was budgeted for the Office of Commissioner of Information, a position catered for under the Access to Information Act. Ramson, who at one point also served as Attorney General, was rehired last year.
“The $40 million is allocated as follows: $1.5 million per month for the Commissioner with gratuity and vacation allowance which are calculated statutory and that comes up to $23.8 million per annum and the balance then goes towards the office supplies, materials and the office for the Commissioner of Information,” Teixeira said.
According to the Minister, Ramson has already handed over a work plan for his agency to President Ali, in accordance with the Access to Information Act. (G3)