The Auditor General’s Report: Going through the motions

Much of the white collar crime that occurs in Guyana involves the stealing of public funds by public officials. Some of the major incidents of this type of crime do come to public attention, though, on the face of the available evidence, there appears to be no correlation between either the frequency of white collar crime or the amounts of money involved and the sense of urgency associated with trying to eradicate or at least reduce the practice. What the Report of the Auditor General suggests is that many instances of this type of crime appear to involve conspiracies between public officials and private contractors to bend, sometimes break the laws, rules and regulations associated with the administration of practices governing matters like procurement and tender procedures in such a manner as to ensure that the parties involved both benefit financially from these unlawful transactions.

The 2008 Auditor General Report, for example, points to several cases of questionable procurement arrangements, overpayments to private contractors undertaking state contracts, disregard for basic tender procedures at the level of government ministries and flouting of regulations associated with laid-down procedures for official purchase of fuel by government departments. More disturbing is the point made in the Auditor General’s Report that some or all of these practices invariably involve transparent conspiracies between public and private sector personages – including in the latter case private suppliers and beneficiaries of state contracts and result in some cases in substantial and ill-explained disbursements of public funds. More than that, many of these transactions are so clumsily executed that the auditors have had little trouble in detecting them. In an overwhelming number of cases these practices appear to have about them the distinct stench of fraud for which the parties involved appear to have no serious obligation to account. The 2008 Report notes, for example, that anomalies for which public officials and public offices ought to be made to account are simply rolled over from one year to the next without any satisfactory reconciliation or explanation.

Collusion between public and private sector officials to defraud the public treasury is, of course, not an invention of this newspaper. We are aware of at least one such celebrated case in recent times and in recent months both the President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and the Chairman of the Private Sector Commission have told this newspaper that many such cases do indeed occur and that it is desirable that we be provided with much more evidence of official determination to at least try to eradicate the practice.

During a recent interview with the outgoing Chairman of the PSC at which several private sector issues were ventilated, the issue of the Auditor General’s 2008 Report surfaced, specifically in the context of those instances of what appeared to be questionable transactions involving public and private sector officials. Not only did the PSC Chairman readily concede that the Auditor General’s Report had pointed unerringly in the direction of the repetitive nature of such practices, he also asserted that a point has now been reached where government ought to order a comprehensive probe into the various findings of the Auditor General’s Report as these relate to what appears to be collusion between public and private sector officials to divert state funds into their own pockets and bank accounts.

The Auditor General’s Report is an interesting and profoundly significant document if only because it remains virtually the only official source of information through which the public can be apprised of the practices associated with the disbursement of public funds, embracing issues of accountability and adherence to rules and regulations that attach themselves to the disbursement of and accounting for public funds; and while it is probably unlikely that the Auditor General’s Report will ever become a best seller, the fact that such a document is produced every year points to an official acknowledgement that government recognises the importance of sound and sober management of the state’s finances and the importance of transparency and best practices in the administration of monies, and the regulations that impact on contracts, procurement agreements and other transactions that ultimately lead to the disbursement of public funds. The private sector too, through its various umbrella organisations and having been saddled with the weighty tag of “the engine of growth” ought surely to recognise the various ways in which the revelations made in the Auditor General’s Report are stalling that engine and inhibiting the envisaged growth.

The sad fact is that we appear to have come to take much of what the Auditor General says in his annual reporting for granted, accepting, perhaps, that the anomalies to which it points are par for the course and that they will persist, whatever we may try to do to stop them, which, of course, raises the question as to whether so much of the painstaking work by the auditors that leads to the publication of an annual report does not amount to little more than going through the motions.

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