Members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday raised concern about the Audit Office’s finding that the Finance Ministry failed to pay government’s share of 24% of the proceeds of the Guyana Lotteries Fund to the Consolidated Fund.
This particular issue has been highlighted in the Auditor General’s report for many years and had been stressed on many occasions by former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran.
Yesterday, as the PAC considered specifics of the Auditor General’s 2010 report on the Finance Ministry, the issue was once again a contentious one.
Representatives from the Ministry, led by Finance Secretary Neermal Rekha and Accountant General Jawahar Persaud, as in previous years, argued that the Government’s share of the proceeds from the Guyana’s Lotteries is kept in special account, outside of the Consolidated Fund, as per the advice of a former Attorney General (AG) Charles Ramson. The advice was given around 2005 but not agreed with by Goolsarran.
Present Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, though he also flagged the practice as a problem in 2010 report, said that he was considering how to approach the matter since it was a former Attorney General who advised for the proceeds to be kept separate from the Consolidated Fund.
Alliance for Change (AFC) MP Trevor Williams came alive during the consideration of this matter, slapping his table and waving his hands as he expressed his disbelief that this matter remained unresolved. “The laws are clear,” Williams shouted. He said that the proceeds of the Guyana Lotteries are state funds, and told the committee that all state funds, according to the constitution, are to be stored in the Consolidated Fund.
“Eh eh, yuh wake up boy,” exclaimed Govern-ment Whip Gail Teixeira, reacting to Williams’ antics. Both Teixeira and People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) MP Manzoor Nadir laughed as Williams continued his arguments.
Both of them asked him to quote the legislation which contains the provisions he spoke of, and told him that he is uninformed on the laws.
Meanwhile, committee Chairman Carl Greenidge told Sharma that he is not bound by the former Attorney General’s advice. The AG, he explained, is government’s legal advisor, and has no place offering advice for an autonomous body such as the Auditor General’s Office.
Greenidge told Sharma that he should seek independent advice, since though the AG’s competence is not questioned, his giving such advice constitutes a conflict of interest.
Greenidge has been at the helm of the opposition parties’ – the Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) – bid to have money accumulated via Guyana Lotteries channelled into the Consolidated Fund. The opposition parties charge that the separate account, like several others, is being kept that way so as to ensure government maintains unchecked, unscrutinized access to funds
Just last year, Justice Diana Insanally dismissed legal proceedings brought by Senior Counsel Miles Fitzpatrick and Attorney Christopher Ram on behalf of APNU MP Desmond Trotman which challenged the constitutionality and legality of government’s placing of Lotto money in the Development as opposed to the Consolidated Fund.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall, who represented Government, had said that “The court, in dismissing the matter, found that the deposit of the monies in the Development Fund of Guyana (Lotto Fund) is in accordance with Article 216 of the Constitution, the provisions of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and the Lotteries Act, thereby vindicating the government’s position.”