The government has launched an investigation into what has been described as “a pattern of serious abuse” where vehicles not affiliated with any government ministry or agency have been accessing fuel from the Guyana Oil Company (GuyOil), and Minister of State Joseph Harmon says private citizens caught in the act would be made to pay for the fuel.
While GuyOil Managing Director Badri Persaud expressed surprise yesterday at this investigation, his Finance Comptroller Rosalyn Franklin revealed that at least one agency has written to GuyOil indicating that vehicles that were not attached to the agency had received fuel under its name.
According to the Franklin, the National Sports Commission (NSC) recently wrote to the company in this regard, but when an investigation was done it was found that the purchasing orders originating from the agency had the required signature.
Sources in that agency revealed last evening that as many as 11 vehicles received huge amounts of fuel and it is now saddled with the bill. According to one source, the commission only has four vehicles and on a daily basis “only about one and a half is used.”
Stabroek News was told that the “spike” in the fuel bill for the commission occurred during the recent election period and it is believed that vehicles that were being used for campaign purposes were being fuelled up on the commission’s tab.
“While it may have been happening before, the spike definitely happened during the election period and there was a thick wad of bills for fuel,” one source said, adding that a “large amount of money” is involved.
It is believed that it is the NSC’s flagging of the bills that would have resulted in the new administration examining the process under which vehicles affiliated with the state receive fuel and discovering that vehicles not owned by the government were benefiting from the system.
Speaking at his weekly press conference at the Ministry of the Presidency, Harmon said the administration is investigating the matter that “falls into a pattern of serious abuse by the previous administration.” He also said that come next week he would be releasing the names of individuals who abused their positions to have contracts awarded to them personally in the last months of the previous administration.
“So the question about those vehicles and the fuel. Yes we are investigating it and I do have in my possession … government personnel in the previous administration who were abusing that facility… We have asked GuyOil to present us with all of these accounts and these statements,” Harmon said, adding that “those persons who were drawing fuel and not paying for it – they have to pay for it.”
The minister pointed out that it is taxpayers who have to pay for the fuel, adding that GuyOil is a government-owned company. Harmon said he is in possession of all the numbers of the vehicles that drew fuel as GuyOil sends a list of the various accounts to the respective ministries “religiously” every month.
He said the ministers have been advised as to how to deal with these matters and as such he would have “a central clearing house.”
But while Harmon said certain information had been requested from the oil company, Persaud yesterday said he was unware of any investigation since he was yet to be contacted by any government functionary under the new administration.
Persaud, who was a candidate on the electoral list of the PPP/C and who some had stated should have resigned from his position, said he would attempt to contact the minister on the issue. The GuyOil head said he could not say if the system was indeed being cheated.
“Government officials can only get fuel from GuyOil if the system in place is adhered to, whereby the company is informed through the relevant authorities of the various ministries,” Persaud told Stabroek News.
He said the system that is in place has been there “for decades.”
Meantime, explaining the process, Franklin said government agencies would provide the vehicles’ numbers to access fuel as well as specimens of the purchasing order with the signatures of those authorized to sign for the fuel, and also who is approving the order.
“Once that purchase order comes to our stations, signed or stamped by the respective ministry or government agency we would give them the fuel as stipulated per the order. As to if the vehicle belongs to that agency we can’t say. We don’t take registrations from them. What we allow them to do is to tell us that this person is authorized to sign purchase orders and this is a specimen of our purchase order,” she explained.
Asked about the registration numbers for the vehicles to access fuel, Franklin said that while initially this would be provided, GuyOil was not informed about changes or additions; what was important was the order and once this originated from the ministry or the agency with the correct the signature or stamp then the fuel was provided.
The purchase order presented to the individual gas stations would stipulate how much fuel is to be provided to the specific vehicle.
It was pointed out that from what was explained there is room for the system to be manipulated, but Franklin said this could only be done at the ministry or agency which would have sent the oil company the documents, but definitely not at the level of the company.
Since the change of administration Franklin said, the old system has prevailed. As such, the same persons signing for fuel and preparing purchasing orders remain in place. The National Communications Network (NCN) is the only government agency which has sent a new set of signatures. “I haven’t received anything from anybody to say look we have changed except for NCN,” Franklin said.
Like Persaud she said she is unaware of any ongoing investigation
Meantime, asked whether the GuyOil head would remain in his position. Harmon said that no position has been taken on him and the board. He said that by the end of the week the government will have a preliminary position on the boards which are being reviewed and in another two weeks there will be a clear position on all of them.
“I can assure you that wouldn’t take too long particularly those boards which have influence and power over the lives of the Guyanese people,” he said.
In 2013, discrepancies were flagged by the Auditor General’s Office when its 2011 audit of Region Four’s financial records revealed that hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and lubricants were utilised by vehicles which were not registered to the region.
“Clearly there is fraud involved here,” then PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira had said during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). She had said that the fact that documents had been tampered with indicated a conspiracy by those involved to embezzle. This was after the then Region Four Regional Executive Officer (REO) Deolall Rooplall had said that not only were several documents missing, but others had been forged.
According to the then Auditor General’s report, “fuel and lubricants valued at $733,076 were uplifted for three vehicles that were not owned by the region.”
Rooplall had explained that the previous REO had instituted a system where vehicles registered to the region would be able to receive fuel from GuyOil with whom it had a contract.
However on scrutinising the process, it was discovered that two of the vehicles which received fuel paid for by the region were not registered to the region, while another was owned by a private individual, who said he had nothing to do with the region. The three vehicles each received fuel from GuyOil on December 2, 8, and 30, 2011, and on each occasion, the serving station was the Kitty Service Station.