Officials from the Region 5 Regional Democratic Council were yesterday made to answer questions as to why legal proceedings had not been brought against an official who reportedly defrauded the region of more than $200,000.
Regional Executive Officer (REO) Ashford Ambedkar identified the defaulting officer as Aziz Ishmael, a former Ministry of Finance employee who worked in the Region’s Sub-Treasury Department.
Ambedkar stated that Ishmael, whose responsibility it was to verify cheques passing through the department, would usually insert additional numbers and accompanying words to figures which had already been signed off on, trumping up the value of the cheque.
It was said that Ishamel would then pocket whatever extra amounts he had added to the cheques. Officials said Ishmael vanished during the region’s audit, and that by the time they had uncovered the scheme he had left the country.
First to flag the issue was PPP/C MP Manzoor Nadir, who questioned the vocabulary used in the Auditor General’s Report. The report stated that “the officer responsible for the misappropriation of $230,000 has only repaid $70,000 to date. As is evident, by the time the audit was conducted, Ishmael, who had returned to Guyana, had entered into an agreement with the region in which he agreed repay the entire sum at intervals.”
Nadir pointed out the fact that the use of such terms (misappropriated) usually suggests theft, which was indeed the case in this situation, and said that the matter should have been placed in the hands of the police from the inception. This should have been done, he said, regardless of repayments since the individual had committed a criminal act.
Ambedkar stated that the police had in fact been contacted, sharing that letters had been written to the Police Commissioner who informed him that the matter was being investigated. He said however, that when the man returned in 2010, the region proposed a repayment contract to which he agreed. As such, the full amount was repaid after several payments. The region in its statements said that $30,000 was repaid in 2010, and the remaining $200,000 was repaid by January of 2011 in a series of payments. Ishmael reportedly left the country again after concluding the arrangement.
Committee Chairman Carl Greenidge also inquired if stronger measures should not have been taken considering the gravity of the offence committed. Attempting to draw an informed conclusion on the matter Greenidge requested the counsel of Finance Secretary (FS) Neermal Rekha who stated that after the police completed their investigation the file should have been handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions Office for a recommendation on possible actions.
To date it is unclear how much investigating was carried out by the police force, but what is clear is that a file was never submitted to the DPP and as such the region sought the best way it saw fit to resolve the matter. PPP/C MP Bibi Shadick acknowledged the effort made by the regional body to recoup the sums, especially considering there were other regions and other public agencies that were in much worse off situations. Shadick also suggested that method selected was more beneficial to the RDC as an arrest would have led to the individual’s incarceration, which by extension meant that the sums owed to the RDC would have been permanently lost. Nadir on the other hand chastised whatever checks and balances system was being employed by the region for its obvious inefficiencies. He stated that the systems that were put in place should have been efficient enough to detect the insertions. He maintained that the requisite persons and mechanisms that are in place ought to have prevented the occurrence. On this note Nadir asked what was being done to ensure that this and any other “misappropriation” is prevented from occurring. Auditor General Deodat Sharma explained to the committee that the Integrated Financial Management and Accounting System (IFMAS) now being utilised by the Finance Ministry now make such acts unlikely. Sharma, as well as the Accountant General however, did state that while this system is very effective, it does not entirely rule out the possibility of a reoccurrence.
As an additional precaution, APNU MP Volda Lawrence suggested that more frequent checks of the system may enable the officials to uncover and deal with such incidences at a much faster rate than is currently happening.