The 2016 Auditor General’s report on the national accounts has found that there have been more overpayments than in recent years.
This was disclosed by Auditor General Deodat Sharma yesterday during the handing over of the document to Parliament. The news that overpayments have increased will raise questions about the work that accounting officers have been doing. Overpayments have been a major problem and in recent years the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has grilled accounting officers on their lapses and threatened to take severe action against them. The fact that the situation has deteriorated in the first full year of APNU+AFC governance will raise eyebrows.
The Report of the Auditor General on the Public Accounts of Guyana and on the Accounts of Ministries, Departments and Regions was presented along with the fourth Performance Report on the Construction of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Access Road, to the Speaker of the National Assembly yesterday.
“This may seem as a routine requirement but it is an indispensable requirement to good governance. There is no way by which one can utilise the resources of our country and no one accounts for that use and letting the public know whether that use is in a value- for-money frame, so that the presentation of investigation reports is not a routine matter,” Speaker Barton Scotland said yesterday.
Although the AG was not at liberty to discuss the contents of the reports, as they have not yet been laid before the National Assembly, Sharma, addressing the media after the presentation, emphasized that they had seen a lot of overpayments in the analysis of accounts. He stated that the trend was observed mainly in regions 1 and 9.
He also stated that they are presently conducting forensic audits in Region 8 regarding the school feeding programme, which involves possible mismanagement of $40 million. Sharma related that one barrier to the investigation is access to information because of missing vouchers. That matter has been reported to the police.
He also stated that another audit is being conducted on the supply of items to the same region by a businessperson based in Parika.
Responding to a question on disciplinary action being taken against accounting officers who fail to comply with the rules and regulations, Sharma opined that there may need to be an amendment of the standing order governing such.
“The Public Accounts Committee have finished examining up to 2015 in the AG report so they’re waiting on the 2016. But I think the problem they’re having is can the Public Accounts Committee mete out disciplinary action against the officers? No. According to the standing order that’s not so. So I think maybe an amendment to the standing order of parliament [is necessary],” he stated.
He added that there needs to be specific penalties that are meted out in these circumstances so that persons at all levels can be held accountable, which he noted the Finance Secretary will be looking into.
The AG’s presentation focused on the improvements within his division, as he noted that they were able to upgrade from a manual system to an Audit Management Software.
“Before I became the Auditor General, the Audit Office was in a state whereby its system of processing was done primarily by manual means. Its technological infrastructure consisted of a few computers whilst the majority of its staff was not proficient in the use of modern technology,” Sharma stated.
Because of the upgrade, they have been able to clear their backlog of audits, operate and share information in real time, and operate within the league of international standards and procedures.
In addition, three units have been established with the specific tasks of performance auditing, fraud investigation and quality assurance. He said that the office also incorporated new technology that strengthened their infrastructural capacity and capabilities, which, therefore, resulted in better publications, which were produced in a more efficient and cost effective manner.
He noted that the modernization of the organization is due largely in part to the support of the Inter-American Development Bank.
Sharma also related that the organization intends to start conducting environmental audits next year, as Guyana prepares to venture into the production of oil.
The audit office can now be accessed atwww.audit.org.gy.