Overpayment continues

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The Speaker of the National Assembly,Dr Barton Scotland, is seen receiving the 2015 Report on the Public Accounts from Auditor General Deodat Sharma (Samuel Maughn photo)

…audit report cites continued trend in overpayment of contractors

By Neil Marks

AUDITOR General Dedoat Sharma, who has over the years pointed to overpayment to contractors and breaches of laws on public spending, on Friday afternoon presented the 2015 Audit of the Public Accounts, saying he has noted a “similar trend.”

The audit is the first to scrutinise spending by the coalition government which came to power following the May 15, 2015 general elections. The audit, which covers the coalition government’s first budget, is for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2015, and reviewed spending by government ministries, departments and the country’s ten administrative regions.

The report was handed over to Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland, at Public Buildings. The report would be made public when it is tabled in the National Assembly in probably another two weeks, when the first session is held after the Parliamentary recess.

Once presented, the report would have to be duly examined by the Public Accounts Committee, and Mr. Sharma has called on citizens to participate in that process, as the examination of the public accounts is open to the public.

He said: “I would like to remind citizens that the sittings in relation to the examination of the Auditor General’s Reports are open to the public, and (present) an ideal forum for citizens to hear if their tax dollars were spent for the purpose or purposes for which they were intended, and in accordance with the required regulations, procedures and policies.”

While unable to disclose the contents of the report, Mr. Sharma said he had noted a similar trend in the way the public accounts are managed. Specifically, he said that the trend of overpayment to contractors and abuse of the Contingency Fund continues. He would not be dragged into specifics, but urged an examination of the report when it has been made public.

Mr. Sharma has said his office has done a comparison on overpayment to contractors in previous years, in relation to the scenario that obtained last year.

“If you see something, say something,”
Opposition Parliamentarian Juan Edgehill said. He sits on the Public Accounts Committee, and was the only one from the opposition at the ceremony. He supported the Auditor General’s call for citizens to attend sittings of the Public Accounts Committee.

“It would be useful for members of the public to show up; because meetings of the Public Accounts Committee, which are always chaired by the opposition, are open to the public; and that’s where the accounting officers -– the Permanent Secretaries, the REOs (the Regional Executive Officers) and heads of agencies — come and give an account (of how) they would have spent the monies that were appropriated at the level of the Parliament for the purpose of which it was appropriated,” Edgehill told the Guyana Chronicle.

Edgehill supported the Auditor General’s call for citizens to use the Audit Office’s website (www.audit.org.gy) to be informed about the work of the Office.

“The website can also be used to anonymously report any case of wrongdoing,” he stated.

Edgehill suggested that millions of dollars could be saved if citizens alert the Audit Office to irregularities.
“If you see something, say something,” Edgehill declared.

The Constitution of Guyana and the Audit Act 2004 provides the Audit Office with responsibility to audit the financial statements of all government entities, including all foreign-funded projects. The mission of the Audit Office is to promote good governance, transparency, and improved public accountability.

In the report on public spending, the Auditor General’s Office found that overpayments amounting to $31.315 million ($31,315,000) were made on measured works on 19 contracts administered by ministries, departments and regions. Further, it was found that significant breaches of legislation occurred, especially relative to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (with 22 ministries/departments being guilty). Thirteen of these ministries and departments breached Section 43, which stipulated that “…any unexpended balance of public moneys issued out of the Consolidated Fund shall be returned and surrendered to the Consolidated Fund”.

In addition, it was found that eight ministries/departments had breached Section 80, which stipulated thus: “The concerned Minister shall, within two months following the receipt of the annual report, present the annual report of each statutory body to the National Assembly”.

Moreover, these ministries/departments did not lay reports in the National Assembly for more than 42 agencies for the year 2014.

Mr. Sharma said Friday that the 2015 report is the seventh consecutive report that was presented by the statutory deadline of September 30.

“Timely reporting is part of our mission, and we have achieved this goal through sheer dedication and hard work,” Sharma stated.
IMPROVEMENTS
Parliamentarian Edgehill said the efficiency of the audit office ought to be commended. He said it shows that the capacity of the audit office has been boosted, with there being nothing suggesting that the Auditor General was “complaining because of the necessary staff.” He said that this was “thanks to the reforms over the years” to ensure that the audit office functions efficiently.

In addition to the submission of timely reports, Mr. Sharma said, the mission of his office includes execution of high-quality audits and the provision of cost-effective service by the implementation of the most up-to-date audit practices.
In this regard, he said, the audit office had utilised funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to commence implementation of the Audit Management Software called TeamMate.

“This will assist us immensely in ensuring high quality work is produced on a more consistent basis and in keeping with international standards,” he stated.

He said the software would see automation of the Audit Office’s working paper files, and will real time review of audit work.

“We could be sitting in Georgetown and review work being done in Essequibo in real time,” he said.

Sharma noted that through the continued support of the Guyana Government, the IDB, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Indian Government, the Audit Office has been able to continue its capacity building initiatives with training delivered/planned in areas such as report writing, performance, procurement and information technology auditing, forensic accounting and fraud investigations.
“We have also revised our Strategic Development Plan, which will chart the way forward for the next three years,” Sharma added.

Apart from Mr. Edgehill, the only other Parliamentarians who attended the ceremony for the presentation of the 2015 Audit Report were Minister within the Ministry of Communities, Valerie Adams-Patterson; and Jermaine Figueira from the government side of the National Assembly.