TRUE to its promise, the Ministry of Communities (MoC) has been exerting greater supervision and accountability over the funds allocated to the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) under the Georgetown Restoration Programme.
For 2019, the Programme was allocated $300 million in the national budget, bringing the total injected into the fund, since 2015, to $1B. The programme had incremental disbursements of $300 million in 2015, $200 million in 2016 and $200 million in 2018. No money was allocated in 2017.
For the 2019, almost $200 million has been allocated, provisionally to projects around the city, including the rehabilitation of four markets and the commencement of construction on an administrative building at City Hall.
In the Auditor-General Report 2017, it was noted that from the 2016 allocation, the council could not produce any evidence accounting for some $70.489 million out of the $200 million given to them; prior to that, in the 2015 allocation, there was no evidence of payments totalling $12.816M.
All of the projects are passing through the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPATAB), a move the MoC made after the Auditor-General Report, over the past few years, has flagged the Programme for lack of transparency and accountability of the money.
The Ministry is also playing a greater role in the supervision of the project.
“The ministry will be directly involved in the supervision and management of the project. We work along with the City Engineer Department in a collaborative manner so if there’s any changes they need, we would work along with them. But in terms of direct project implementation, it will be done by the Ministry,” explained MoC Coordinator of the Engineering Services, Naeem Khan.
The need to exert greater control over the fund was highlighted last year, when, during a Commission of Inquiry (COI) of the operations of City Hall, it was revealed that then Town Clerk, Royston King, issued hundreds of millions of dollars in works to companies without even issuing a contract, or using proper procurement procedures.
MoC Permanent Secretary, Emil McGarrell, earlier this year, said projects would be mandated to pass through the NPATAB and the money directly handled by MoC to avoid this. Khan explained that at the end of the day while M&CC decides how the money is spent, it is the central government that has to account for the money.
“When funds are coming from central government, especially at the Ministry of Communities, we want to make sure that there is proper project implementation because we will ultimately be responsible for the accountability of these provisions, so we can satisfy our self that we got value for money and that we account for it properly,” Khan said at least one company claimed to still be owed over $100 million by City Hall for works they did in 2015 under the Programme, notwithstanding the fact that all of the money allocated to the Programme, for that year, was handed over to the M&CC.
The council also failed to comply with special conditions of an MoU which specified that the council was expected to use a special commercial bank account to “keep the financial resources’. The ministry was also expected to authorise all payments charged under this account, but all transactions were authorised by the council. A master inventory was also not maintained.
Also in 2015, though the M&CC was called to account for $241.637 M, they bafflingly submitted payment vouchers totalling $247.558 million, $5.921M more than what they were given.