–after audit report shows cheques were reportedly paid to contractor before completion of works
THE Public Accounts Committee (PAC), on Monday, called for a criminal investigation to be launched into a 2018 project, which involved repairs to a self-acting sluice at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara, for which cheques were prepared and purportedly paid out before the completion of works.
The $4.6 million contract, as outlined by the Auditor General’s 2018 report, was awarded and later signed on December 5, 2018, with an expected timeframe of two months.
According to the report, some $4.5 million was paid to the contractor, and the project engineer who was assigned to the Ministry of Public Security, Dannie Ramdolar, purportedly certified that works were completed since December 17, 2018.
Contrary to his certification of the works, a physical verification by the Audit Office of Guyana on May 3, 2019, found that the contractor was still conducting works on the structure.
Owing to this observation, the audit report outlined that the engineer falsely certified that the works were completed since December 2018.
As this revelation was made to the committee, members questioned the engineer as to whether he indeed falsely certified completion of works.
Ramdolar, in response, said that this was not correct, and at the time of the physical verification by the Audit Office, remedial works to damaged sections of the sluice were being completed.
He said that there was no certificate of completion for the project and the contractor was not issued payment, as he was still to complete remedial works.
Minister of Public Works, Bishop Juan Edghill, after listening to the engineer’s statement, asked what documentation the Auditor General had to back up the audit report.
It was then revealed that, in the compilation of the report, auditors used a final payment voucher of $4.5 million which was dated December 17, 2018, along with the signature of the engineer, stating that the works were inspected and certified as of the said date.
To this end, members of the committee, on both sides, inquired as to why the information that Ramdolar provided differs vastly from that of the Audit Office.
Giving some background, representatives of the Audit Office told the committee that during their visit in May 2019, the contractor was doing works to the surface and road works.
The representative said that when they visited while remedial works were to be done, the contractor was conducting works which were part of the contract and, as such, it could not have been that the project was completed and remedial works were being done.
It was then that Ramdolar told the PAC that it should be noted that payments were not issued until everything was completed after May 2019.
However, Minister Edghill said: “If two weeks after you sign a contract you prepare a final payment voucher that went to the ministry’s finance department that went for payment… it’s a payment voucher that they’re auditing signed by both you and the contractor when the work was not completed, it was not done. We’re in breach, serious breach.”
The minister then asked the former Permanent Secretary of the ministry what advice was given to facilitate this payment.
In response, the former senior official said that, at the time, in order to retrieve funds from the system, that procedure was used and it was done not knowing that the contractor would have encountered difficulties with the project.
“We have a public officer that is telling the PAC that to facilitate monies being recorded as expended for a year, documents are written up to falsify activities that did not take place?” Edghill asked.
The committee then turned to the Accountant General who stated that, as the contract was signed for the project on December 5, 2018, only the mobilisation for the payment should have been processed at the time and then have the project marked as a multiyear project.
More revelations as it relates to the project being incomplete were made, as it was noted that when officials from the audit office visited in May 2019, a number of things that were outlined in the contract for the project were not physically in place and as such the works that were being done at the time could not have been remedial works.
Ramdolar, however, said that his view was different.
Minister Edghill then said: “If you have prepared certificates, cut cheques for payments, the door was not in place, road works were now being executed, when the Audit Office checked the quantities for sand, loam and crush and run, zero and you’re going to tell PAC the work that was being done was remedial work. That’s misleading PAC.”
This sentiment was echoed by Chairman of the PAC, Jermaine Figueira, who said that he was convinced that the engineer was indeed misleading the committee with his responses and this was backed up by the findings of the Auditor General’s report.
It was then that Minister Edghill made a request that the committee adopt a process that the Finance Secretary refer the matter for a criminal investigation.
This move was seconded by opposition Member of Parliament, Ganesh Mahipaul, even as Figueira stated that that was the position of the PAC.