APNU member and Chairman of the Public Accounts Com-mittee (PAC) Carl Greenidge yesterday accused the PPP/C of attempting to tamper with efforts to determine if there was the propensity for a conflict of interest in having the Finance Minister and his wife hold their respective positions.
Dr Ashni Singh is the Minister of Finance and his wife Gitanjali Singh is Director in the Audit Office.
During a press conference yesterday, Greenidge said that during the course of a PAC meeting, PPP/C Member Gail Teixeira complained that her party’s representatives had not had an input into the letter Greenidge sent to the oversight bodies of Chartered Accountants. She also stated that it was wrong to have mentioned the name of Mrs Singh since this effectively linked her to the Ministry of Finance
Greenidge had sent a letter to Guyanese, regional and international institutions regarding their codes of ethics and querying whether there was apossible conflict of interest arising from the appointment of Mrs Singh, given that she would be required to audit, directly or indirectly, agencies for which her husband has policy responsibilities.
Greenidge also questioned the rationale of the move to confirm Mrs Singh and Auditor General Deodat Sharma after more than eight years of claiming that they lacked the necessary qualifications.
When asked if the decisions of these institutions have the ability to compel changes, he admitted that their decisions are not binding, and as such they cannot tell government what to do. He opined, however, that being professionals, both the Finance Minister and his wife should strongly consider the suggestions that are produced. As it relates to the Auditor General, who is a member of these bodies, the decisions should have some weight.
Greenidge stated that at the meeting, Teixeira announced that the PPP/C had written the institutes directly, suggesting that the PAC did not intend to have the names mentioned. He referred to this move as deplorable and accused the government of attempting to intimidate these institutions, and take away suspicion from a highly suspicious situation. He further stated that though it is not uncommon for a couple to be in superior and subordinate positions in institutions, such a practice is unacceptable where finances are concerned; suggesting that one of the parties should have been transferred to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest.
Greenidge insisted that without the mention of the relevant names to the oversight bodies, they would not be in a position to offer advice on this special and controversial case at a time when government is embroiled in accusations about corruption and calls for entities such as National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) and AHL, which have failed to account for billions of dollars left in their keeping, to be audited.
Greenidge stated that there is already a strong local conviction that the matter does constitute a conflict of interest, and suggested that maybe the PPP/C does not want the names mentioned since it would point directly to the source of the conflict. He questioned the intention of the PPP/C and stated that in the light of being labelled the second most corrupt country in Latin America and the most corrupt country in the Caribbean, all parties involved should take all measures necessary to comply with current proceedings.
Mrs Singh’s promotion to the de facto number two position in the Office of the Auditor General was sought by Sharma, who at that time was the acting auditor general. It was facilitated by the unexpected and temporary PPP/C majority on the PAC resulting from the sudden and unannounced absence of Alliance For Change Repre-sentative, Trevor Williams. Greenidge stated that having this temporary majority, members of the PPP/C insisted on voting on these matters. He said considering the absence of Williams he attempted to vote on the matter but was informed that the Standing Orders do not permit such an action.
He said the Clerk, who has the responsibility to give advice on such matters, referred the meeting to the Standing Order which pertained to the Select Commit-tee and the Standing Order which says that in the absence of a specific Standing Order, the House/meetings have to abide by procedures that would have been adopted by the plenary of the assembly.
Greenidge stated that in an efforts to determine the decision-making capacities of the PAC, he sent a letter to the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee on October 25th, drawing its attention to the fact that Standing Orders 48 (2), 80 (5) and 102 (2), which refer to the voting powers of the Chairmen of Stand-ing and Select Committees are conflicting. He stated that the Standing Orders Committee is expected to give guidance on the matter although the PPP/C has also written a separate letter arguing that the rules are clear and that the Chairman of the PAC cannot vote.
Greenidge stated that a full report of the PAC deliberations in relation to the appointment of the Auditor General’s office staff, as well as the views of the Standing Order committee will be examined by the National Assembly in a few weeks’ time. He stated that staff members have been appointed by the Auditor General and confirmed by the PPP/C in the interim and Teixeira has already contended that these appointments cannot be reversed.