I refer to the most recent letter written by Ms Priya Manickchand under the heading ‘Geetanjali Singh was not Goolsarran’s personal assistant’ (SN, October 17). I am happy to offer some clarifications about the workings of the Audit Office during my tenure as Auditor General.
The Public Service Commis-sion (PSC) had delegated to the Auditor General the recruitment of Audit Clerks. However, the Commission still had to issue the letters of appointment. So when I said I recruited the person concerned that was the truth. It is also true that the person served as a personal assistant to me. However, this was an informal arrangement since there was no recognized position for personal assistant in the authorized structure. Over a period of time, several persons served as my personal assistant. I would look for the best among the lower level staff to help me with my work.
At certain times during the year, particularly in the month of August, the Audit Office was virtually closed, as most officers would be out in the field to complete the various audits to enable me to finalize my report for presentation to the National Assembly. The only persons that could be found in the Audit Office at that time were the two secretaries and the office assistants.
I would personally leave my desk and head a team of auditors out to conduct audits, especially in the regions. Therefore, one needs to understand the workings of the Audit Office at the time to dispute the statements I have made.
There is another section of the print media that accused me of double standards. It cited the appointment of G N Dwarka to act as Auditor General while I was pursuing my MBA, compliments of the British government under a Chevening award. The British High Commissioner, the late David Johnson, was so impressed with my efforts to improve public accountability in Guyana that he personally visited my office to offer me the award to pursue higher studies. I gratefully accepted it. There is a story to be told why on the eve of my departure to the UK in 1993 I abandoned plans to go. But I shall leave that for another time. I eventually went to Strathclyde the following year to do my MBA. There is another story to be told when I resumed duties and everyone in senior management had to step down to their substantive positions.
Sorry for the diversion, but the public service at the time provided for the next person in line to act while I was on study leave. That person was Mr Dwarka. Similarly, when I went on vacation leave to pursue a short-term assignment with the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in Africa, the next in line was Mr Balram who acted in my absence. That assignment was extended at the request of the UN and approved by the Government of Guyana.
It is true that both Mr Dwarka and Mr Balram had a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Guyana but they were ‘high fliers’ in terms of their knowledge and understanding of government financial management, superior to mine at the time since I was a private sector-oriented person. That apart, the rules of the PSC did not provide for any other arrangement. The situation is, however, different when it comes to a vacancy. When I demitted office, I had recommended that Mr Maurice Wilson, who had retired but was retained on contract, act as Auditor General until such time that a new Auditor General is appointed, and I had anticipated that the acting arrangement would last for no more than six months. But that was not to be, and it is public knowledge as to what happened later.
My question is: Where is the double standard?
The same section of the print media carried a story that during my tenure as Auditor General, Mr Carl Greenidge’s sister was attached to the Audit Office. That is true. She was there before I joined the Audit Office as Deputy Auditor General in 1987. It was several years later that I was to learn that she was the sister of the Minister of Finance because she was married and did not carry the surname ‘Greenidge.’ Be that as it may, the person concerned was not part of senior management but rather held a supervisory position. In addition, the Minister of Finance at that time was not responsible for the preparation and certification of the country’s accounts. That responsibility was vested in the Accountant General. The Fiscal Management and Accountability Act of 2003 changed that arrangement and the Minister now has that responsibility.
My final point is that we are creating a dangerous precedent of having government officials coming to the defence of the Audit Office when shortcomings are identified. This never happened during my time, and I responded personally to any criticisms of the Audit Office. If the Audit Office is truly independent of the executive, then it has to defend itself. How can the Audit Office be as critical as it would have liked to be of the operations of government, if it relies on the government to defend its shortcomings? Is the Audit Office now an arm of the government?