LAST week Auditor General Mr. Deodat Sharma presented the 2015 Audit Report to Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland. While this report will come in for greater scrutiny by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and Members of Parliament when Parliament re-convenes, there are aspects that have been made known in it that can get the conversation going on management of the State’s coffers.For years citizens have expressed concerns and alarm as to the manner in which the Consolidated Fund has been managed. Abuses continued to be met with strong rejection and calls for government to restore integrity to the process. One of the reasons the forensic audits was supported is the desire to know where patterns of abuse are taking place and putting mechanisms in place to halt it, including proceeding with legal action against violators.
Citizens were also mindful that even though the People’s Progressive Party/Civic administrations would deservedly take credit for timely submission of audit reports- i.e. by the 30th September of which 2016 marks seven consecutive years of compliance- the management of the Fund left much to be desired during their stewardship. The questionable nature of such management has contributed to this country being ranked the most corrupt English-speaking Caribbean country by Transparency International (TI).
To the A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) administration’s credit, there have been some noted efforts to improve management of the Fund, and such should continue until full compliance is achieved in every sector of government. Improvement in accountability and transparency has been seen for instance with the appointment of the Bid Protest Committee. This is a legal requirement under the Public Procurement Act (2003) which previous administrations had ignored.
The 2015 Report for the greater part of the year (May to December) will reflect on the APNU+AFC stewardship. While it is fair to say the moment the APNU+AFC assumed office it ought to take responsibility for the stewardship of the country, time needed to get acquainted with the system needs to be factored in. Interest will also be shown as to what efforts were made under the country’s new leadership in improving accountability.
In 2015, officials elected and appointed, would be aware of the people’s call for accountable and transparent government. The ascension of the APNU+AFC to office and the immediacy with which it set about putting in place systems to conduct forensic audits presented enough warning to do right by the law and established procedures. It would be interesting, if possible, to assess if there has been any shift in behaviour.
The Auditor General has made known that patterns of violation such as over-payment to contractors and abuse of the Consolidated Fund have continued into 2015. This is a troubling trend, given what is stated above and suggests now more than ever strident actions have to be taken to address the continuity of such practice. In doing an analysis of the report, where it may be necessary to strengthen the laws to make deterrence meaningful and acquired the required personnel, the government must not flinch.
Where society sees recommendations in the forensic audits, such as system strengthening to avoid malpractices and placing persons before the court, should such not be implemented it can lead to the impression that government is comfortable with the abuse of the Fund. This, the APNU+AFC administration must be mindful of.
Audits are not only to satisfy the requirements of the law, but are also done to help in management of the resources of the State. Every effort needs to be taken to ensure that these resources are accounted for. Conscious that Guyana continues to receive international donor funding to assist in building our administrative capacity, and investors, local and external, are likewise expected to behave consistent with international best practices; the country needs not lapse behind in taking its rightful place.
In the past when TI and other institutions of such ilk pronounced on the state of governance in Guyana, the administration of the day responded either through denial or derision. In this new dispensation, governance must be approached in the manner that international institutions will see efforts on our part to adhere to laws and international best practices. If we strive hard enough and stay the course, Guyana can succeed.