Culture Ministry bank account breached law – Auditor General report

- contractor given new contracts despite owing large sums

The 2010 report of the Auditor General has cited a Ministry of Culture account with $294 million as being in breach of the law.

According to the report tabled in Parliament earlier this month,  the operation by the Ministry of Special Bank Account No.3174 breached Section 43 of the Fiscal Management and Account-ability Act (2003).

This account was used to receivefunds from various sources such as the United Nations Development Pro-gramme, UNICEF, the UN population fund and the Guyana Lotteries Commis-sion and to make the relevant expenditures.

Significant unexpended balances on capital provisions, the report said, were withdrawn from the Consoli-dated Fund during the latter part of 2010 and deposited into Account No.3174.

The report said that the transfer of balances constituted a breach of Section 43 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (2003) “which require the repayment of all unexpended sums to the Consolidated Fund”.

The balance on the account at December 31, 2010 was $294.6 million and comprised varied amounts including $99 million for the stadium, $92.5 million for the National Sports Commission and $75 million for the NSC swimming pool.

The audit office recommended that the Head of Budget Agency take swift action to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act.

The Ministry also came under scrutiny for other issues.  At the time, it was still to recover $852,780 in overpayments for the year 2009. Though there was evidence of attempts to recover the sum, the report said that the process was “exceedingly slow”. The ministry explained that the Guyana Police Force was asked to provide assistance to locate the employees in question and that the ministry was awaiting a status report from the police. The audit office recommended that the ministry intensify its efforts to locate the persons who were overpaid.

Also attracting negative comment was the ministry’s failure to facilitate the laying of reports and audited accounts in the National Assembly for statutory entities under its control. The auditor general’s report cited the National Trust whose year of last audit report was 2003. Financial statements were on hand for 2004 to 2009. The National Sports Commis-sion’s year of last audit report was 2004. An audit was in progress for the years 2005 to 2010.

Several prior year matters have still not been resolved. The Culture Ministry has not recovered overpayments totalling $193,450 paid to a contractor for works carried out at the Madewini male dormitory. “Further, there was no evidence to indicate that the Ministry had taken note of the 2009 recommendation on this matter”. In its response to this observation, the ministry said it had taken note of the discrepancies related to the Madewini project and was making efforts to recover the amount.

The audit office’s recommendation was that the “Ministry engage (a) the Attorney General on the possibility of private action to recover the outstanding sums from the contractor and (b) the Finance Secretary on the question of surcharge of errant officer (s)  involved in the certification of transactions leading to the overpayments”.

Since the year 2005, the report said that the ministry has also made slow progress in clawing back amounts of $245,000 and $989,900 which were overpaid to a contractor for the rehabilitation of the rampart at Kyk-over-Al and walkway at Fort Zeelandia. The report noted that it was only in the months of May 2011 and September 2011 that a sum of $50,000 was refunded via two payments.  Though money was still outstanding, the report noted that the defaulting contractor was awarded two contracts with the ministry.

Asked to respond to these issues, the ministry said that the contractor has pledged to refund the overpayments totalling $1,235,600. To date 4% was paid back and it is anticipated that the remainder of 96% will refunded by the end of the year. The audit office recommended that the ministry engage the contractor with a view to making a “meaningful deduction” from the current contracts.

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