Poor preparation by officials of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs on Monday saw the deferral of a scheduled hearing before the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for the second time in the space of a month.
The PAC members had little patience as the ministry’s Permanent Secretary (PS) Alfred King and former PS Vibert Welch fumbled for responses to answers posed by the committee.
The Auditor General’s 2015 report documented that $10.279 million had been awarded to a contractor for rehabilitation works at the Indigenous Village at Sophia and that as of December 2015, the contractor had been fully paid, with $280,000 of the amount met by current expenditure.
“On what authority was current resources used on this capital project?” Chairman Irfaan Ali questioned King, who referred the question to Welch.
Welch attempted to answer the question but was stopped by Ali, who said he was making no attempt to address the question properly. “First of all, how is your current/capital budget co-mingling? [They’re] two separate projects,” Ali said.
“Two contracts should have been prepared. One separately for the current and one separately for the capital and we recognised that after the fact and at that time I was a bit upset that it was done but not withstanding that fact the voucher had already gone through for processing,” Welch responded.
Committee member Volda Lawrence then enquired under what line the transactions occurred, to which Welch stated that the rehabilitation works were charged to “buildings,” while the $280,000 was charged to “national and other events because it was part of a heritage village development….”
“You’re making it worse. How can it be charged to the national and other events and it’s paying here for a contract?…Did you pay attention to what transpired here last time? It is obvious that no effort is being made here to have proper answers to these questions.
You have just complicated this more. You have just complicated this significantly more…I am not going to tolerate it today here again with this ministry,” Ali vented.
When the Chairman asked Welch whether he was in the position to answer the questions, Welch responded, “The answers are right here.”
“If you’re going to take this attitude, I’m going to ask that you write the minister responsible for this answer because you can’t tell me the answer is right here. You’re complicating the issue far more,” Ali, however, responded.
Welch stated that he could not answer the question then, but would make checks to provide the answers.
Ali then stated that they would defer questioning on the paragraph to Monday, but when subsequent questions also proved difficult to answer, the session was brought to an end and further postponed to next week.
King had been asked about $66.574 million to be verified from a total of $204.244 million expended for Amerindian Development.
While he assured the committee that all the cheques had been updated and the documentation was provided to the Auditor General (AG), he seemed to be on a different page with the AG’s office.
The AG’s office said they had seen photographic evidence that works were completed but they had received no vouchers. King was not in a position to verify this.
“Mr King the buck stops with you and likewise I would say to AG also that we need to ensure that whatever meetings we have between ministry’s staff and his staff, that we can get conformity when we come here to PAC… both sides seem not to be able to say something concrete in terms of what has transpired in terms of clearing these matters,” Lawrence commented.