There needs to be a forensic audit of the city council

Dear Editor,

It has been a tumultuous journey so far in the City Council and I would be hard pressed to say that the Council has made major improvements except for the often repeated Jubilee cleanup project of the City which, incidentally, was recently audited by the Auditor General and numerous financial and other discrepancies were found.

Perhaps similar to other Councillors expectations, I had hoped that we would have made significant improvements in the core areas such as drainage, solid waste, markets, public health, security and enforcement, transparency and accountability instead of being bogged down at each Statutory Meeting with many matters of little importance. I wonder if we will ever see genuine change, progress, accountability and transparency at City Hall given the current modes of operation even though changes were promised at the year-end meeting.

A knowledgeable Councillor often reminds the rest of the Councillors of the need for them to fully understand their responsibilities and authority under the laws of the Municipal and District Councils Act, since the staff of the Town Clerk’s various departments will continue to take advantage of the Councillors’ lack of knowledge of the laws. On many occasions you get the distinct impression that there are two competing groups within the Council ‒ the Town Clerk’s office on one hand and Councillors on the other ‒ but it is an indisputable fact that the elected Councillors are the authority of the Council and this was recently reinforced by the Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, who stated that “the elected Council is ‘supreme,’ whereas Town Clerk Royston King, like any other administrative officer, is hired to carry out the directives of the Council.”

In addition, an alarming issue came up recently where Mayor Chase-Green and Chairman of the Finance Committee Oscar Clarke are on record claiming that the Chairman of the Finance Committee can make decisions without the approval of the full Council. This particular situation occurred when the Mayor stated that the Finance Committee Chairman and the City Treasurer McCalmon will decide if they will extend the amnesty on interest for overdue rates & taxes. In the first place, I do not recall that the full Council voted and approved an amnesty on interest for overdue rates & taxes. I challenged the Chairman of the Finance Committee Oscar Clarke and the Deputy Town Clerk Sharon Harry (the Mayor and Town Clerk were in China) to provide me with the Sections of the Municipal and District Councils Act which gave that authority to the Chairman of the Finance Committee and I further stated that there would be no need for Councillors if the Chairman and the Mayor, by the same logic, could make unilateral decisions for the Council; I have not yet received a response. As I understand it, all committees which consist of Councillors, such as the Finance Committee, are supposed to make recommendations to the full Council which would then be vote on such recommendations. The Council will not move forward unless the full Council is engaged in meaningful and collaborative consultations, disclosures and being part of the decision-making process especially on financial matters.

The Finance Committee which signs off on all expenditures for the Council has not yet presented a financial report to the Council since local government elections of 2016. The same goes for the Tender and Procurement Sub-Committee which falls under the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee has produced a few reports but none were financial in nature. As I recall, no contracts or projects were brought to the full Council for debate, discussion or approval except for a consultancy project to assess the City Abattoir where, according to the Town Clerk, he had written to three companies and only one of them responded and so the contract was awarded to that company.

The City Treasurer presents a financial statement each month which does not provide any details of current projects and it is just a summary of the monthly financial position of the Council. So the full Council has not yet received any detailed reports for any projects, contracts or works that were completed or that are currently being executed including the names of contractors, contract amount and how much money was spent so far, the details and scope of each project, completion dates and who authorized such projects.  The Council has spent about $2 Billion of revenue collected up to November 2016 with about 55% going towards employment costs but Councillors have not yet been provided with any detailed financial reports of how the balance of this money was spent. In addition, the Council was spending about $5 million a month for a road sweeper which I, along with a few Councillors,  insisted was a complete waste of money and they eventually discontinued the service thereby realizing a projected savings to the Council of about $60 million annually. We were advised at the last Statutory Meeting that a list of ongoing projects has been presented to the Works Committee Chairman, but all Councillors have not yet received or seen this list.

If you were to ask the overwhelming majority of Councillors if they are aware of how much money was spent on projects and the financial details of any of those projects including the contracts, you would not get a good answer. It seems that only the Mayor, Town Clerk and some members of the Finance Committee may know what is going on while the rest of Councillors are in the dark. How could you manage a city in this manner and expect good results?

In April 2016, Councillors were informed that the Council had 890 employees and a manpower audit was being conducted. I was recently informed by the Town Clerk that the audit will conclude at the end of 2016. Many of the Council’s core services have been contracted out to private contractors such as solid waste collection, drain cleaning, weeding, road repairs and market cleaning. With so many services already contracted out to private contractors, why does the Council still have so many employees on the payroll? I raised this issue at the Budget 2017 discussions and inquired why we were always hearing about the need for more revenue but not the need for staff reduction and/or costs reduction. It is absolutely necessary to analyze this manpower audit report to see if personnel are being utilized in an efficient/economical manner and whether there is need to reduce staff due to redundancy.

There is an ongoing issue related to software development for the Council which can be traced back to 2009 when an overseas company, Polaris Software was involved with software development for the Council to the tune of $26 million and where similar outcomes were promised regarding the software capabilities as we are also hearing today. There is currently another company, INNOSYS which began working on a software program for the City in 2015 with a contract price of $14 million of which $9.5 million has already been paid and only 65% of the project has been completed but which, incidentally, is not operational in an error-free manner. And now we are advised that yet another company will be working on more software ‘modules’ for the Council and this is catered for in the 2017 Budget with an allocation of $20 million. I would hazard a guess that the Council will have to get a completely new set of software in the near future since I personally doubt the competence of the software developers in the coding, database implementation, encryption scheme requirements and integration process necessary for the various modules of financial software currently being developed.

The Council operates five Day Care Centers and the Maternal & Child Welfare Center in Georgetown. A significant amount of funding and medical supplies are received from external sources but the City Treasurer does not prepare any reports on the money or other supplies received.

The Budget for 2017 lists an inaccurate shortfall of $807 million since the actual shortfall may be closer to $3 billion excluding accounts receivable. What is not reflected in the Budget is the money owed to contractors, bank overdraft, existing loan, GPL and other persons or entities. The garbage collection companies are owed about $330 million and GPL is owed $1.7 billion so we are looking at about $3 billion or more that is owed so the projected shortfall of $807 million cannot be correct. However, no mention is made of the approximately $16 billion owed in rates and taxes by property owners.

Budget 2017 also is setting aside about $8.5 million for Town Clerk Royston King to purchase a duty free vehicle at the time when the Council is in deep financial crisis. There was an attempt to justify this proposed expenditure at the Budget discussions when I raised the issue but I cannot see how this can be an appropriate expenditure when the Council is having difficulties paying for parts, lights, paying employees and contractors and making repairs to markets and other areas.

The Chinese Government had made a donation of $8 million towards the cleanup campaign in Georgetown and they had assumed that the money went to the City Council. When the Chinese Ambassador inquired how the money was spent, Town Clerk Royston King said that the money was not received at Council and that he would launch an investigation. We later learned in the press that the money was received by the Global Friendship Foundation which was headed by former Mayor Hamilton Green and another former Council employee. I had written to the Town Clerk to get information on the results of his investigation since some people still think that the Council received the money and so a public explanation was necessary since we were dealing with a foreign government and the image of the Council. I have not received an explanation as yet from the Town Clerk.

And why on earth should the City Council be paying for security guards for former Mayor Hamilton Green when he now works for the government at Central Housing and Planning and not at the City Council?

One of the first public statements which I made after being elected as a Councillor was to call for a forensic audit of the City Council and I followed up with three motions to effect same but they were denied by the Mayor and Town Clerk.  The reason for calling for a forensic audit was the numerous accusations of corruption and mismanagement levelled against the Council and the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars were being collected and yet the City was always reporting financial difficulties, while core services were not being provided to the citizens of Georgetown.  The accounts of the Council are supposed to be audited each year by the Auditor General according to law, but they have not been audited by the Auditor General for many years. According to Section 178 of the Municipal and District Councils Act 28:01, “the auditor (general) shall give the treasurer one month’s notice in writing of the date on which he intends to commence the audit of the accounts of the council”. It is unclear whether the Auditor General has ever given such notice to the City Treasurer within recent years as required by law, to audit the Council’s books.

Georgetown and the City Council will not get anywhere unless and until elected Councillors start to put the interests of the people and their constituencies ahead of other (political) considerations and start to take a stand. There needs to be a complete overhaul or major improvements of all systems at the Council and one of the most effective ways of getting there in through a thorough forensic audit where all areas and systems are examined. This will be advantageous in the long run even though there may be some short term fallout for some, but if you want progress, it will be a small price to pay.

Hopefully, the New Year will bring good tidings to the people of Georgetown and to the City Council. I will continue to work in the interests of the people of Georgetown against a backdrop of accountability and transparency.

Yours faithfully,

Bishram Kuppen

Councillor

Mayor and Councillors of

the City of GeorgetownA

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