Why won’t Morrison support setting up a Finance Committee he criticized the PPP for not establishing?

Dear Editor,

I wish to respond to a letter by the Region 5 REO, Mr Ovid Morrison, published on June 16, 2017 in the Stabroek News, captioned ‘Once budget is approved REO does not have to go to council to ratify every project execution.’

The Chief Executive Officer of a region is the clerk to the Regional Democratic Council and clerk to all committees of the RDC. The committees of the RDC are responsible for the proper management of the affairs of the programmes identified and approved by the council.

The regional budget once approved, is given to the RDC to implement its programmes for the year. In the interest of transparency and accountability, it is incumbent upon the REO to ensure that the RDC committees monitor and ratify every policy and project approved by the council. The Chief Executive Officer therefore has no authority to implement a project on his own, and must first seek the approval of the council so that progress can be monitored and ratified by the Works Committee. By law, the management and development of RDC resources are the responsibility of the RDC and not the Regional Executive Officer alone. The REO should be guided by the Local Democratic Organs Act, Chapter 28:09 Section 33:  “In the management and development of its region, every council shall be guided by the general policies of the Government and the national objectives as set by the Government, and shall devise its development plans and programmes to ensure consistency with such policies and objectives; and in the performance of his functions each councillor shall endeavour to co-operate with every other councillor and with all socio-economic institutions in the area.”

In his letter, Mr Morrison admitted that monies were used from the regional budget to clear away the land at the Naarstigheid site after the cash-crop farmers were evicted. This was done some time in the month of February 2017. I urge the Auditor General to carry out an investigation on how the money was spent, and to determine why the Works Committee of the RDC was not involved in this project and therefore could not have monitored the work carried out there. Despite what the REO wants us to believe, the work that was done at this site was of a capital nature. Fresh vegetation and large trees were cleared and new drains were put in. And since the RDC had never done any works there before, monies expended on this project could not be justified as “maintenance” work. This was capital expenditure not current.

What is puzzling is that there are many playgrounds, canals and health centres under the direct control of the region which are in bad condition and need cleaning. These include the Hope Town school canal; the No 5 school compound; and the Woodley Park playground. Why did the REO not clean those instead?

Mr Morrison needs to remind himself that the RDC is not the Regional Chairman alone. There are other councillors who should be representing the people in every community of Region 5. But often now the RDC statutory meetings are broken up by this very REO and the APNU+AFC councillors he controls. The real issues affecting the people of Region 5 cannot be represented by the elected representative of the people while the REO stubbornly and childishly insists on an apology from the Regional Chairman.

His theory of conflict resolution as it relates to the teachers’ protest should be evidence based, because the Prime Minister of Guyana does not share the same view. When the teachers protested in front of the PM’s residence, he came out and spoke to the teachers. But unlike the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison knows nothing of diplomacy and arrogantly denied the teachers an audience with him when he was called to speak to them.

And although he has since recanted under relentless pressure by the Teachers’ Union and the laws that proved him wrong, Mr Morrison has yet to apologize to the teachers and hundreds of students whose lives he disrupted during this ordeal.

Now that everyone knows he broke the law by withholding teachers’ salaries, and then misled the government and the Public Accounts Committee about the $80 million that he claimed was overpaid to teachers in order to justify his actions, I await patiently to see what disciplinary action will be taken against him by the Finance Secretary, Dr Hector Butts, who took a no-nonsense approach when he terminated the services of former REO Raphael Downes. Or will Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan interfere and remain silent on Mr Morrison’s autocratic leadership that resulted in his vindictive transfer of Staff Nurse/Midwife Sherlyn Marks without due process?

In his letter, Mr Morrison was impertinent enough to insinuate that between 1992 to 2015, “many of the people who were appointed and promoted to high positions were appointed and promoted even though they didn’t have the minimum qualifications for those positions.” In fact, he accused the PPP administration of employing “square pegs in round holes” and wrote, “But I am proud to add that this stigma is not applicable to my staffers, all of whom possess the pre-requisites for giving me the support I need.” Well, I challenge Morrison to prove that those persons hired from 1992 to 2015 did not have the necessary qualifications, and to provide the evidence that those hired under his watch do possess the appropriate qualifications.

I have examined Mr Morrison’s tenure as REO of Region 5, and it is obvious that his actions are in direct conflict with the government’s policies on social cohesion. Recently, Mr Morrison hired 17 new employees, all African-Guyanese, not one single Indian in a region that is inhabited predominantly by Indian-Guyanese. How does he justify this?

With all the propaganda aimed at labelling the PPP as a racist party, at no time during its 23 years in government had there ever been a single event where 17 persons of Indian descent were hired by the PPP administration to the exclusion of another ethnicity. There also needs to be an investigation into Mr Morrison’s hiring of a former Field Auditor who was  previously fired for forging her date-of-birth to make her eligible for a duty-free concession on a vehicle.  She is presently employed at a lower position at the RDC.

With reference to the promotion of a heavy-duty driver to that of Transport Officer, I never questioned his qualifications to hold that position. I merely said the position of Transport Officer does not exist under the RDC staffing inventory, and there is no indication that this appointment was ever approved by the Public Service Commission and/or the Department of Public Service. Mr Morrison did not dispute this in his letter. But what I do question is the REO’s authority to give the man a government house to live in and a government car to use as his personal vehicle. Mr Morrison is yet to explain this.

And the two motorcycles he gave to and APNU+AFC Councillor and his wife were not to save them from “destruction” and “rot” as he claims; these were motorcycles that were bought for the use of the Environmental Health Assistants. In any event, it is not Mr Morrison’s prerogative to allocate government property and vehicles to those who do not qualify for them. And he is yet to explain who is paying for the gas, lubricant and maintenance of these vehicles.

In addition, Morrison is yet to explain under whose authority or law was he able to put in place a number of acting appointments without the authority of the Public Service Commission or Department of Public Service.

The NDCs already have an accounting system in place. The chief accountant does not have the authority to implement any accounting systems at the NDCs. Chapter 28:02, Section 132 reads, “The accounts of the receipt and expenditure of every village or country district shall be in the form for the time being prescribed by the Minister.”

As head of the Budget Agency, Mr Morrison is required by law to affix his signature to the NDCs bank accounts which he has failed to do because he makes no effort to correct a conflict with his name. But instead of admitting that, he continues to use the excuse that, “I am not willing to put my signature all over the place when some Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of certain NDCs, are misusing funds without the authority of the overseer.” If this is so, why aren’t these “Chairmen and Vice Chairmen” being investigated? Until Mr Morrison fixes the conflict with his name, the bank will not accept his signature and this will force the NDCs to find creative ways to pay contractors to avoid impeding progression the region.

If the PPP did not establish a Finance Committee when they were in power, why is it that he does not want to support the establishment of a Finance Committee now if he feels it necessary. After all, the APNU+AFC campaigned on a platform of accountability and transparency. Mr Morrison needs to explain his lack of support now for the establishment of the same Finance Committee he criticized the PPP for not setting up. What is there to hide?

Yours faithfully,

Harry Gill, MP

PPP/C

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