Accountants’ body remains mum on conflict question surrounding Finance Minister, wife – Greenidge

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana (ICAG) has not responded to a June, 2012 request by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament for guidance on whether the appointment of the wife of the Minister of Finance to the number two position in the Auditor General’s Office is a threat to the integrity of the public audit process.

This disclosure was made by the Chairman of the PAC, Carl Greenidge in a letter in yesterday’s Stabroek News. A separate complaint in July 2012 to the ICAG on this matter lodged by Robert McRae of Ram and McRae alleging a conflict of interest between the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Auditor General involving Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and his wife Geetanjali Singh has also gone unanswered.

Greenidge referred to the complaint in the context of a statement last week by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon criticizing three persons for making what he said were premature pronouncements which could prejudice the outcome of ongoing investigations by professional bodies of this “putative conflict of interest”.

The supposed ongoing investigation was queried by Greenidge. In his letter, he pointed out that the appointment of Mrs Singh in 2012 to a position involving oversight of auditing entities for which the minister is both directly and indirectly responsible had raised concerns among the non-PPP/C members of the PAC that there was a “threat to the objectivity of the auditor and the integrity of the public audit process.”

Greenidge in his letter said that this was a view shared by most professional auditors and lawyers that he had consulted. He said that as Chairman of the PAC, the body responsible for approving appointments to the senior positions in the Audit Office, he therefore wrote in June 2012 to the local (ICAG), regional and international offices of the relevant professional body, the ACCA, seeking guidance on the issue.

“The Guyana body (ICAG) has not even acknowledged the request and at one point erroneously claimed not to have received it. The regional office and the HQ responded and the latter undertook to have their officers charged with examining professional ethics investigate the matter”, Greenidge said.

However, he said that in the course of reviewing the status of the issue subsequently, the PPP/C representative on the PAC, Gail Teixeira, advised the PAC that she had also written to the professional body challenging Greenidge’s authority to write the letter and refuting the claims that Mrs Singh had any assignments that posed a professional conflict of interest. Greenidge said that Teixeira has not seen it fit to provide the PAC with a copy of that letter although he was certain that she had received all the correspondence between him and the ACCA from the Parliament Office.

Greenidge said that following Teixeira’s letter, communication from the London and regional offices stopped.

“I can only assume that the professional institution has been intimidated into inaction by threats contained, or implied, in the letter/s from Mrs Teixeira and the PPP regime,” Greenidge charged.

For these reasons, Greenidge stated that Dr Luncheon’s assertion about ongoing investigations “would be curious, if not completely untrue. He therefore needs to tell the public which investigations and its findings are in danger of being prejudiced, their time frame and the terms of reference.”

Greenidge said that if the government was interested in having this conflict of interest situation probed, it would hardly have taken the “unprecedented step of calling for a vote during their temporary majority in the PAC meeting last year. That temporary situation was, it will be recalled, facilitated by the unannounced absence of Mr (Trevor) Williams, the AFC member who had only a day prior issued a press statement critical of the proposal to promote Mrs Singh.

“It goes without saying that Dr Luncheon’s claims about the adverse effects of public discussion of this matter are completely self-serving and hollow.”

Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram on his blog chrisram.net also criticized the ICAG for inaction on the question of the conflict of interest. Ram, former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran and ICAG Head Ronald Alli were the three persons who Luncheon had said had engaged in a “ploy orchestrated against Mrs Singh”. Luncheon has since withdrawn his statement against Alli.

Ram in his blog said that Luncheon should be aware that a formal complaint was lodged with the ICAG by Robert McRae CPA, a partner of Ram & McRae, alleging a “conflict of interest between the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Auditor General involving members Dr Ashni Singh and Geetanjali Singh.” He said that the complaint, lodged since July 9, 2012, had to name the two persons since investigations are held into conduct of members of the Institute, not offices.

“Mr McRae lodged on the same date not one but two complaints with the ICAG, only one in which Mrs Singh is named along with Dr Singh.

“With regard to Mr Alli, I am not aware of any statement being made by him at any time on the matter. If any criticism can be directed at Mr Alli, it is that the ICAG of which he is the President, has been unforgivably slow in pronouncing in a matter of national and professional importance falling within its functions. The ICAG has a duty not only to the public but also to the Singhs to rule on the complaints since it is totally unfair to its two highly ranked members to have professional complaints hanging over their heads,” Ram asserted.

In relation to prejudicing of the investigation, Ram said that it can hardly have escaped Luncheon that he and other members of the Cabinet are interfering with the probe and in the process compromising the Audit Office.

“He must realise that Cabinet is not a disinterested party and for it to attempt to pronounce on a matter involving one of its own members is committing several improper acts – undue influence on the ICAG and on the Audit Office, as well as conflict of interest. Maybe this is Luncheon’s ploy to win further loyalty from an Auditor General who owes his appointment more to the political machinations in the PAC than to any professional qualification or competence,” Ram argued.

 

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