In an attempt to better fulfil its mandate and tackle deficiencies highlighted in a recently published Forensic Audit, the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest) has completed a Financial Accountability Policy and implemented a Staff Confidentiality Agreement.
The agency hosted its first end-of-year press conference at the Duke Lodge yesterday with the objective of sharing operational highlights, challenges and accomplishments for 2017 and highlighting events and initiatives for 2018.
Chair of the Board, Patricia Bacchus explained that though the agency was for years touted as being a “one stop shop” it never was legally set up to fulfil such a mandate.
“It was only responsible for the element of investment promotion that involved recommending investment agreements for potential investors which would grant them waivers of duties and taxes relevant to their investments as well as recommend tax holidays which will grant them corporate tax relief for five or ten years,” Bacchus said.
She noted that as an investment promotion agency its specific mandate is two-fold namely the promotion of investment- both foreign direct investment and local investment in Guyana and secondly the promotion of export and trade.
In order for Go-Invest to fulfil its publicized function there was a need for more collaboration or greater level of collaboration between agencies responsible for investment such as the Guyana Revenue Authority, Guyana Lands and Survey Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Foreign Trade [now Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and a number of other agencies which share the responsibility of facilitating investment.
Having recognized this need, a request was made for each of these agencies to be represented on the board. Bacchus noted that the new board structure meant proposals are processed faster with greater levels of efficiency.
Additionally the agency has been able to put in place Memorandums of Understanding with most agencies that outline how they “will work together and identifies timeframes within which [they] should bring things to fruition”
“As far as feasible collaborations with other agencies allow for a more efficient ways of facilitating investments,” Bacchus stressed.
Chief Executive Officer of Go-Invest Owen Verwey later shared that these MOUs have been approved or agreed in principal with the EPA, GL&SC, GRA and CH&PA.
Bacchus also specifically made mention of a legally enforceable secrecy agreement now signed by all investment officers and a recently approved Financial Accountability Policy.
These two documents have been specifically noted as a response to the findings of a Forensic Audit into the operations of the agency.
The audit, which was conducted by Nigel Hinds Financial Services and released in February of this year concluded that Go-Invest “has failed to fulfill its mandate” over the course of its two decades of existence and is “plagued” by poor governance, mismanagement, no strategic plan, an absence of standard operating procedures and a lack of policy for investment agreements.
Specific mention was also made of a lack of an internal audit department, a seeming policy of political interference and bureaucratic sloth.
Bacchus noted that in responding to the audit report the board has worked to make sure they document their financial policy to avoid some of situations which happened in the past.
“We have also streamlined and formatted a number of tools which can be found on the agency website to ensure all parties interested in the work of the agency or of applying to the agency understand what the expectations are. Nothing is secret anymore, everything is known and properly formatted and on the website. You don’t need to feel you need to get in touch with a senior officer to understand the process,” she said. Those tools include the Application or Expression of Interest Form, The Self-Compliance or Project Implementation Monitoring Form, First Level Due Diligence Form and the Staff Confidentiality Agreement.
Speaking about the issue of an internal audit department, Bacchus said that they “have since formed a financial audit subcommittee of the board which is chaired by a certified public accountant who sits on the board.”
She as chair is a member the subcommittee as is the head of accounts department, the CEO and deputy CEO.
“On a quarterly basis we reconcile cheques issued by the agency as well as conduct random spot checks on systems for accountability. The Financial Accountability Policy is 52 pages long and details every single process to be followed when dealing with any financial issues from petty cash system to issuing a cheque, who the signatory should be and the various limits of the agency so that the rules are very well known to all that are working there,” the chairperson shared.
She further noted that having recognized that the subcommittee cannot fulfil all duties of an internal audit department the board has authorized the outsourcing of the task of internal auditing to chartered accountants.
“An engagement letter will be drafted. It will touch on various aspects of the tasks associated with internal audit and those will be outsourced. The fact that we are a subvention agency and not a revenue generating agency may not provide enough substantive work for us at this point in time to have a full internal audit department so the most cost effective way to do it in the estimation of the board is to have that subcommittee and outsource the work to a chartered accountant,” Bacchus said.