Minister of Education Priya Manickchand says ministry views the Auditor General’s report as a management tool and will do its best to ensure that the pronouncements made in the report are addressed and that there are no repeats.
The 2010 report commented on a number of issues concerning the ministry, including a $110 million contract for the procurement of textbooks, the process for which circumvented the controls of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003.
Speaking to Stabroek News in an invited comment on Thursday, Manickchand who took over the reins of the ministry following last year’s general and regional elections, said, “We view the report as a management took. We welcome the observations made therein. We are working to ensure that the things that he frowned on or commented on are not repeated.”
Manickchand pointed out that much of what the Auditor General commented on was procedural and not substantial, even as she said the ministry will be addressing all of the concerns the Auditor General’s report has raised.
Former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education Pulandar Kandhi, said he has prepared his comments to the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on the damning disclosures of the 2010 Auditor General’s report, made public on February 10.
Speaking to Stabroek News last week, Kandhi, who served as permanent secretary at the ministry for a number of years, including in 2010, said that he cannot disclose his comments just yet, since doing so would prejudice the process to which he could be part.
Kandhi said too that while the present Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Delma Nedd, will be the one to face the grilling by the PAC after it begins to hear submissions from the various government agencies, departments and regions, it is possible that he is co-opted to help her in answering questions. Kandhi is now on the Teaching Service Commission.
Stabroek News also made attempts to speak to Nedd, but these attempts proved futile.
In very stern language, the Auditor General’s report for 2010 flayed the ministries of Education and Finance over a $110 million textbook procurement deal, which it said employed a strategy to defeat the controls of the Fiscal Management and Accountability (FMA) Act of 2003.
The report said the Education Ministry had, on the basis of sole sourcing, sought and obtained approval from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) to purchase $110 million worth of textbooks from a local supplier. A similar arrangement had been worked out the previous year with the same supplier who was not named in the report.
According to the 2010 report, the transaction exhibited features which constituted serious breaches and were dangerous.
The report said that the NPTAB granted approval on December 29, 2010 for the textbooks deal. Thereafter, two cheques were drawn on the Consolidated Fund in relation to three vouchers.
One cheque for $40 million was written on December 31, 2010 but not paid until May 4, 2011. The other cheque was written on December 31, 2010 for $70.2 million but not paid until September 20, 2011.
“As can be noted, payments took place four and eight months into the new year, which confirms the use of a strategy to defeat the controls enunciated in the FMA Act, by the withdrawal of sums appropriated in one year and holding them for extended periods for spending during the life of another Appropriation Act,” the report noted.
The report said it is was even more disturbing that such a serious breach is aided and abetted by the Ministry of Finance, through a process where stale dated cheques are extended for use at current dates. “This was the case of the second cheque, which was updated on 9 June 2011,” the report declared.
The report said that following the payment of $70.2 million on September 20, 2011, the supplier refunded the sum of $30.2 million on a Scotiabank manager’s cheque on the same day.
“Consequently it became apparent that the intention of the ministry was to pay over only $40 million, but was constrained by the sum written on the instrument on hand. Such dangerous accounting could only leave the ministry, and government as a whole, at risk.
The situation was compounded by the fact that to date the ministry has failed to repay the sum refunded by the supplier, to the Consolidated Fund,” the report said.
Further, the report pointed out that the contract executed with the supplier was dated May 4, 2011 even though approval had been granted by the NPTAB on December 29, 2010. “Given the date of the agreement for the supplies, the accounting methodology used to prepare cheques in the name of the supplier on 31 December 2010 was irregular,” the report said.