So far, around $133m has been spent on the audits which were ordered by the APNU+AFC government on its accession to office in May of controversial agencies and projects such as NICIL, the Marriott Hotel and the Guyana Gold Board. These were well merited considering the legions of controversies that swirled around the dark financial arts of the Jagdeo administrations and the accompanying arrogance and inscrutability. A number of well-respected auditors were hired for the audits and from a layman’s perspective the public would want to know from the reports whether there is evidence of the misappropriation of state funds, corrupt transactions, a wastage of monies, flagrant breaches of the law, the improper sequestering of funds and the committing of the state to obligations detrimental to it.
Thus far, the government has not officially released any of these reports. The public has only become aware of the contents of some of the reports through the industry of the private media. This blackout on the audit reports exemplifies one of the major problems that the administration has experienced since May. When one commits to a certain course of action there can be no turning back without damage to credibility. The government has to understand that there must be a transparent implementation plan for each of its major undertakings. The audit reports that were commissioned were clearly intended to provide rapid assessments of the state of play and to determine where culpability lay for various transgressions which were perceived by the now governing parties while they were in opposition. Hopefully, there was never the intention that these reports would be used for political purposes and deal making.
Once the reports had been commissioned in some logical order and submitted to whoever had commissioned them, it was then the responsibility of the administration to release summaries of the findings, edited where necessary, and the recommendations. This is important as the APNU+AFC administration has to make a deep part from the unacceptable practices of its predecessor and one of the best ways of accomplishing this is to let the sunlight through. When entered in the public domain, citizens then partake in the discussions of the reports as equal stakeholders and develop a greater understanding of the issues and trust in the actions of their governors.
None of this has happened and it isn’t difficult to discern why. The administration appears not to have determined how to handle these reports and it doesn’t appear as if priorities have been set. Nowhere is this more blatantly evident than in relation to the disastrous plight of the sugar industry. No matter the murmurings of senior administration officials and confidantes about relatively better sugar production figures, the news is nowhere near to lifting any of the dark clouds that have gathered. Indeed, by delaying action, the industry will sink deeper into the mire. There is no good reason why the report of the Commission of Inquiry has not been released to the public or why up to now, two months on, the President and his senior ministers have not been able to deliberate on it despite several retreats. One understands the importance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and there could be no missing of that event but surely the sugar industry requires, nay demands, immediate cabinet attention similar to the dawn meeting that had been summoned by the President when the floods threatened the capital city.
Hopefully there will be swift action but the handling of the audit reports and the inquiry into the sugar industry signals a government that is averse to the taking of tough decisions and this has created doubt about how such decisions are being taken in the administration. There are also signs of disorganization and sloth which may possibly explain why the government was trying to force through the complex anti-terrorism bill at Thursday’s sitting. While the Attorney General mounted a spirited defence in Parliament of the extent of his consultations on the bill, he has not explained why there was no attempt to ensure that the public -which public would have been both target and source of support for its provisions – had no sight of it; not even on the web edition of the Official Gazette which much of the citizenry has no access to anyway. No bill, no matter how well consulted on, must be intended to be passed in the National Assembly without the people being aware of its provisions.
So what is the plan of action in relation to the audit reports on NICIL and other agencies which have exposed many perturbing developments? It can’t be that Cabinet has to make a decision on it. This is not Cabinet’s business. The terms of reference underpinning the audits demand that the reports be transmitted by the government to the various institutions and agencies which are entrusted with making decisions on whether laws have been wilfully broken, public funds stolen or misspent and acts of corruption committed.
The reporting requirements set out by the government in the terms of reference for the audits mandates that seven days after the completion of field work a draft report has to be submitted to the Finance Secretary and the Minister of Finance. Fourteen days later, a comprehensive report must be submitted to the Minister of Finance. In the event of the discovery of acts of malfeasance, the auditor is expected to bring this to the “immediate attention” of the Minister of Finance. Should the public not expect similar efficiency by the Ministry of Finance and the government in the handling of these reports?
Since the resources of the various law enforcement arms are limited in dealing with white collar crime, the government should seek assistance from the UN to help these various agencies determine the extent of the transgressions and chart the way forward. It should be noted that in September this year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime floated the possibility of prosecutorial assistance to Guyana in the area of corruption. Taking decisive action will establish this government as business-like and committed to its agenda. The actions will also present seminal examples to its own high ranking officials about the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. On the other hand, failure to act decisively will add to the cynicism which has flourished in the minds of the public for several decades about the intentions of their leaders.