I refer to a letter written by Ms Manickchand under the heading ‘The Geetanjali Singh issue is about women being able to work in the field of their choice’ appearing in the October 14 issue of the Stabroek News. I wish to comment on parts of the letter that specifically refer to me. Transparency Institute (Guyana) Inc may wish to offer its own comments in so far as the letter impinges on the work of the institute.
I did not work 10 years under the PNC regime in the Audit Office before “accepting” promotion as Auditor General. I joined the Audit Office on 1 December 1987 as Deputy Auditor General. Upon the retirement of Mr Farnum, the then Auditor General, on 17 September 1990, I was appointed to act as Auditor General. The acting arrangement ceased on 31 December 1990 when I was substantively appointed Auditor General. I therefore served three years before becoming Auditor General, and not ten years.
It is not true that I “remained unethically silent regarding the PNC administration’s failure to be accountable and transparent by having updated audited accounts for government offices.” I was not the Auditor General during the period 1987 to 1990, but on several occasions I raised the matter with the then Auditor General to the point where on one occasion he became very angry with me. If Ms Manickchand is referring to the period 1 January 1991 to 5 October 1992, the records will show the efforts I made during that period to get the government to produce accounts for audit. I have copies of every press clipping – the Chronicle, the Stabroek News, the Catholic Standard and the Mirror – attesting to my efforts. I refer Ms Manickchand to my book Improving Public Accountability: The Guyana Experience 1985 to 2007 for a detailed treatment of my efforts to restore public accountability in Guyana. It is available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. I also refer her to my column of 10 December 2012 in the Stabroek News entitled ‘The Truth about the restoration of public accountability in Guyana,’ a copy of which is attached with a request that Kaieteur News forward it to Ms Manickchand for her consideration. In addition, she may wish to be enlightened by the relevant sections of the late Tyron Ferguson’s book, Structural Adjustment and Good Governance: The Guyana Experience.
It has never been my intention “to embarrass the government and the governing party, to paint them as corrupt and lawless and hopefully by doing so weaken the government with the ultimate aim of removing it from office.” Based on my own training and experience, I speak out on issues relating to good governance, transparency and greater public accountability and, as the records will show, I am indifferent as to which government is in office.
Ms Manickchand quoted the definition of conflict of interest from Business Dictionary.com as “a situation in which a party’s responsibility to a second party limits its ability towards discharge its responsibility to a third-party.” This is too simplistic a definition. I have written three articles so far on the subject. Here is what I said on the issue of conflict of interest:
“… a conflict of interest occurs in a situation where a public official’s decisions are influenced by his or her personal interest. It has the potential to undermine the impartiality and objectivity of the official because of the possibility of a clash between the official’s self-interest and his or her professional or public interest. A conflict of interest exists whether or not that influence actually takes place, once there is a reasonable belief that there is a risk that decisions may be unduly influenced by secondary interests. It can also exist even if there are no improper acts since differing roles are likely to provide an incentive for improper acts in certain situations.”
We then proceeded to consider conflict of interest from an accountant’s perspective, particularly as it relates to rendering audit services. We noted that the bar is significantly higher compared with other professions since independence from those whose work the auditor has to evaluate is the cornerstone, indeed the foundation pillar, of the auditing profession. A leading authority in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, Emile Woolf, once wrote that the concept of an audit and concept of independence are the twin sides of the same coin, and that a dependent auditor has lost his/her raison d’être and is a contradiction in terms.
The Institute of Internal Auditors considers that competing interests can make it difficult to fulfil the internal auditor’s duties impartially and could impair the individual’s ability to perform his or her duties and responsibilities objectively. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) asserts that certain professional engagements, such as audits, reviews, and other attest services, require independence, and that independence impairments cannot be eliminated by disclosure and consent.
The ACCA Code of Ethics and Conduct considers conflict of interest and ethics to be inter-related. Ethics is concerned with what society considers to be right or wrong, and therefore relates to standards of behaviour. Objectivity has been identified as a key ethical principle, and members should not accept engagements in which conflicts arise, even if there is a possibility of such conflicts arising. Where threats relating to conflict of interest cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level, either because appropriate safeguards are not available or cannot be applied, the professional accountant must decline or discontinue the specific professional service involved or, where necessary, resign from the engagement or the employing organization.
Ms Manickchand mentioned that neither the late Winston Murray nor Ms Volda Lawrence raised the issue of conflict of interest in the Audit Office when they chaired the Public Accounts Committee. The truth of the matter is that they were too embarrassed to mention the issue. I had cause to return to Guyana in 2007 when my superannuation benefits were held up for three years. I had the good fortune of meeting Ms Lawrence who sought my views on the matter. I was emphatic that a serious conflict of interest existed. I now dare say that if there was ever a conflict of interest, this is the one. It is the mother of all conflicts of interest, and in no other country would this have been allowed to happen.
The Minister of Finance has to accept greater blame for this state of affairs since he would have realized that such a conflict would arise once he accepted this ministerial position in 2006. He should have either declined appointment or have his wife relocated to another state agency or the private sector. After all, she is a professionally qualified accountant who can easily gain employment elsewhere, or alternatively she could set up private practice. It is not too late to do the honourable, morally and ethically correct thing.
My nomination to the Public Procurement Commission is purely on the basis of my professional and technical competence and years of experience at both national and international levels. I am on record as having stated that the appointment of members of the commission should be depoliticized. In this regard, I had recommended that the Public Accounts Committee advertise locally and internationally for suitably qualified and trained Guyanese to express an interest in serving on the commission. I am indifferent as to whether I become a member and if my name poses a difficulty for policymakers, I am willing to ask that it be withdrawn. My ultimate concern, however, is for the Public Procurement Commission to be up and running, and staffed by independent, and professionally and technically competent persons.