Burrowes city probe finds widespread financial irregularities

-affirms Auditor General’s position on town clerk, treasurer
Commissioner of the Inquiry into City Hall, Keith Burrowes, says that the findings of the probe have shown widespread financial and procedural irregularities regarding the operations of the Council, and confirmed what was noted by the 2006 Auditor General Report, which prompted the investigation in the first place.

Keith Burrowes
Keith Burrowes

Burrowes made this disclosure at a press conference held yesterday at the Rupununi Room at the Tower Hotel.  He was joined at the news conference by Local Government Minister Kellawan Lall , Permanent Secretary in the Local Government Ministry Sewchan and by five  other members of the team which conducted the inquiry: Premchand Dass, Puran Persaud, Patricia Chase-Green and Ranwell Jordan and Brijlall Ramprashad.
The 2006 Auditor General (AG) report had revealed serious breaches of regulations and protocol by the administration of the municipality, particularly within the Treasurer’s Department. Consequently, the report had questioned several actions by the then Town Clerk Beulah Williams and City Treasurer Roderick Edinboro. The two officials had been sent on leave to facilitate the inquiry.

Speaking at yesterday’s briefing, Burrowes said that he had agreed with the assessment of the AG’s report regarding the performance of these two officials and said that the recommendations made regarding the future of these workers be followed.  The Commissioner, however, told Stabroek News that he has also recommended that the positions of other persons be reviewed.

Meanwhile, in describing the way forward for City Hall, Burrowes outlined several things which needed to be done to improve the functioning of the establishment and called for effective management.  Burrowes said that it was necessary to assess the skill sets that are needed to carry out the core responsibilities and this would help in the proper distribution of resources within the Council. This, he opined, might help with the management problem that faces City Hall.

He identified the need for clean financial statements and said that this should be one of the immediate aims of the Council.  The Commissioner identified this as imperative if City Hall was to go forward.  He also said that the Council needed to set indicators which they wanted to achieve annually.

Burrowes also said that the Council had to find a way to improve its rates collection as he pointed out that the failure of City Hall to properly collect adequate revenue on time would create a cash flow problem. The Commissioner also identified the issue of zoning as being one that needed to be adequately addressed and monitored within the city.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the criticisms of City Hall, Burrowes acknowledged that there were some departments in the Council that were working well, and indentified the Public Health Department as an example.

Lall yesterday congratulated Burrowes and the other members of the team for successfully conducting the Inquiry. He opined that the report has fairly identified areas that needed to be improved. According to him, the recommendations made in this report should not be seen as being specific to City Hall since he opined that they could be beneficial to the entire Local Government process. He emphasized that the commission of inquiry was not meant to be interpreted as a severe indictment against City Hall but as a progressive step.

He said that the changing of some of the by-laws would be one of the ways to ensure more efficiency. He also contended that one of the ways to ensure financial efficiency was to have strict adherence to the annual budgets.

When Stabroek News asked Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green to comment, he said that he could not since he had not seen a copy of the report. He said that he heard the general comments made by Burrowes and the Minister at yesterday’s press conference but said that he wanted to know exactly what was recommended and how the government intends to help put these measures in place.

Members of the media did not receive copies of the official report as expected but they were told that this will be done shortly.
The Commission of Inquiry was set up by Lall last year to investigate the state of affairs at City Hall. A  press release from the ministry had said that the inquiry would be carried out under seven terms of reference: to peruse the Auditor General’s report on the municipality for 2006; to obtain the assistance of knowledgeable persons in conducting the inquiry and to look for irregularities identified in the AG’s report as relates to the town clerk’s office, the office of the City Treasurer, loans to members of staff and others, advances on salaries, irregularities in rates and taxes, municipal bank accounts in commercial banks and restructuring municipal departments and operations.

Burrowes, an economist, was appointed the sole commissioner and was to be assisted by an eight-member team. The inquiry was also commissioned to pronounce on any culpability of the Town Clerk and City Treasurer and to make recommendations to the minister. It was set up after a report was submitted to the M&CC by the Auditor General (AG). The report revealed serious breaches in regulations and protocol by the administration of the municipality, particularly within the City Treasurer’s Department. It had examined several areas: wages and salaries, for which records were not being properly maintained; officers being given payment in lieu of leave without proper authority or approval; advances and loans to officers; deduction of officers’ deposits; bank reconciliation statements; assessment and collection of rates and taxes and information systems costs.

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