By Melissa Charles
Town Clerk Beulah Williams has responded to the Auditor General’s (AG) report on discrepancies at City Hall, stating that neither she nor City Treasurer Roderick Edinboro exceeded their authority in any way.
The response, in the form of a report, stated that it was the collective view of the officers that the systems used by the AG to adjudge their work were only part of a “wider policy framework of the municipality.”
Because the systems used do not reflect the correct policies and practices adhered to by the municipality, the actions of officers were seen as inappropriate. If measured against the policies adopted to deal with the administrative challenges then the findings of the AG”s report would have been the complete opposite, the report stated.
The town clerk said the AG’s suggestion that amendments could be made to City Hall’s payroll by anyone who has access to the system was an inaccurate statement. According to Williams, there are several competent individuals within the Treasurer’s Department who deal with the processing of the payroll and payment of emoluments. This, she added, was contrary to the AG’s report, which had said that the same officer making changes to the “pay changes register” was making changes to the database for the processing of the payroll.
The report explained that the payment of emoluments follow a specific procedure. Directives for pay changes are sent from the town clerk, personnel officer or head of department to the city treasurer, then to the senior accounts supervisor through the accounting manager who has direct responsibility for payments. The report said the verification system for the payroll was “broad based”: when the accounts supervisor writes up the payroll ledger and passes it for entry into the system by data entry clerks, all entries – including overtime, allowances and deductions – are checked and verified by staff at different levels. The town clerk said the AG’s investigation took the pay changes register as the primary source for information on the payroll when it is only a subsidiary document. It stated that in this “age of advanced technology the pay sheet is only one of several formats which represent information from the payroll system.”
With regard to filling of vacancies at City Hall, Williams said there were several ways of doing so: by promotion, transfer, internal recruitment and external recruitment. The AG’s report had stated that positions had been filled without following proper protocol and without being authorised by full council.
The AG’s investigation contended that nine senior officers on the executive pay sheet were paid $1,371,171 in lieu of leave during 2007 and 2008. It said these payments should not have occurred since there was an existing policy that clearly stated that all leave earned should be taken within the year or be forfeited. If the need arises to pay in lieu of leave then the approval of full council should be sought, which was not done in any of the cases. In response to this, the town clerk said approval of leave was an administrative function and did not require approval from the council. Further, that leave was not deferred because an employee requested, but was decided by the town clerk depending on whether or not the service of the employee was needed. In addition, leave deferred was not forfeited but added to the next year and payment in “lieu of leave” was made in extreme cases. The report added that in the case of eight officers they were paid because their services were needed.
The exception was a city manager. The AG’s report had found that the manager had made an unauthorized entry in the December 2007 payroll allocating $166,961 to his emoluments. Williams explained that she and Edinboro called the manager in, but he denied involvement in any such thing and also behaved disorderly. According to her, a letter was written to Republic Bank requesting that his account be debited and the unauthorized sum refunded to the council.
The AG’s report had further showed that several officers were being overpaid, including a clerk in the Accounts Department who was appointed to act as accounting manager and was approved by the full council to work from February 1, 2006 to April 30, 2006. The report had said that the clerk was still in the acting position although approval was not sought for her to continue. Further she had taken 28 days leave last year September and was still paid an acting allowance which means that she was overpaid $26,026 for the period she was on leave, something for which Edinboro could not give an explanation. Responding to this, the town clerk stated that no ministerial approval was necessary since council was authorised by law to approve its own salary increases.
Further that not all changes to allowances were required to go to the council.
Williams also stated that contrary to what the AG’s report suggested, changes to basic salary did not rest solely with the council. Further, that the two officers within the Treasurer’s Department were not paid in excess of the amount stipulated by council.
The town clerk said the AG’s audit failed to provide any substantial evidence as regards its implication that the tax collection system was flawed. Further that the system initiated since 1996 has undergone a number of changes after consultation with a number of stakeholders including the AG’s office.
Williams also stated that it was a falsehood that the Information Technology (IT) department was not being consulted except for work in the Treasurer’s Department since the consultant was involved in work with several other departments of the council.
Meanwhile, a special committee being set up to carry out an internal audit of City Hall is in its final planning stage with representatives already named from the Ministry of Local Govern-ment, Ministry of Finance, Mayor and City Council (M&CC) and the Guyana Local Government Officers Union (GLGOU) to sit on the investigating team.
Minister of Local Government Kellawan Lall disclosed earlier this week that the representatives have already been named. However he did not wish to reveal the details of the investigation. The audit is to begin soon, the minister had said.
President of the GLGOU Andrew Garnett has ex-pressed concern at the fact that three M&CC councillors were to sit on the investigating committee. According to Garnett, the councillors have been privy to the Auditor General’s report and have already made their opinions public concerning the report and the officers at City Hall. He said that they have made “judgmental statements” at functions where the media were present and “it is a travesty of justice to have those very councillors on the board.”
Garnett told Stabroek News that after deliberating on the AG’s report and following instigation by the Mayor and his councillors, Lall decided to put together a committee to scrutinize City Hall’s documents and financial reports dating back to 2007. He said the GLGOU requested and gained approval to have a representative on the committee and had since selected university lecturer Andrew Hicks as its representative.
When this newspaper spoke with Hicks last Friday, he said he welcomed the union’s initiative to select him as its representative. He said he believed the move to have someone outside the union would ensure that a fair view was incorporated into the outcome of the investigation. “I will bring my own professional perspective to this,” Hicks said.
Yesterday marked the end of the 30 days which the town clerk was given to respond to the AG’s audit report, which was done at the behest of the Mayor and Councillors.
At a special meeting, which was conveyed to relate the AG’s findings, councillors were very vocal about the issues ventilated. One councillor had called for the matter to be brought to the attention of the police, stating that the report showed serious irregularities and “blatant misuse of taxpayers’ money.” The M&CC had then approved a motion to send Williams and Edinboro on immediate leave so that investigations could be carried out in the Treasurer’s Department. They have both proceeded on leave and Deputy Town Clerk Yonette Pluck is now performing the duties of Town Clerk while Andrew Meredith is acting in the capacity of City Treasurer.