Auditor General unable to pronounce on city accounts due to limited access

The office of the Auditor General (AG) has not been afforded enough access to the City Council’s records to judge whether its accounts are “clean,” AG Deodat Sharma said yesterday.

Sharma made the disclosure yesterday during the first Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing of 2018, held in the Parliamentary Chamber.

He related that since the PAC’s last sitting, the Audit Office has attempted to audit records from 2005 to 2015, but said that when the Council was visited for the audit, no records for 2005 were produced. He further related that records from 2012 were damaged, but nevertheless, they have begun work from that period onward.

As it relates to 2016, the year in review for the AG’s report, the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) received a $24 million subvention. The sum was part of a $401 million Capital subvention for Municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils for the enhancement of the environment and improvement of community services, and for M&CC, was an addition to $200 million disbursed for the Georgetown Restoration Fund.

“…Why should we continue to give Georgetown money when they’re not accounting for it? Is this a special child? Is Georgetown a special child?” Member of Parliament Juan Edghill questioned.

“…Getting information from the Georgetown Municipality to the Auditor General’s office is a difficulty. Getting information at the PAC for the Georgetown municipality is a difficulty, and I would like the permanent secretary to advise if in such circumstances the National Assembly should continue to approve appropriations to the Georgetown municipality when they have not been giving an account of the monies appropriated to them,” the MP stated.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities Emile McGarrell pointed out that according to the law, treasurers are in fact responsible to the AG, and so it is the AG that has “leverage, legally,” to address the matter.

M&CC’s accounting officer, Treasurer Ron McCalmon, was not present for the meeting yesterday for medical reasons but sent a message indicating that he would be available on the next occasion.

In his stead, Deputy Treasurer John Douglas was summoned. Douglas, however, could not state how the $24 million subvention was spent or if it was all expended, but said that “to his knowledge” it was not “still sitting in the Council’s account,” as Chairman of the PAC Irfaan Ali had put it.

The M&CC, unlike the other nine municipalities, has failed to submit a status report on how the money was spent.

The 2016 AG’s report states that $200 million was paid that year to the M&CC in three voucher payments under the Georgetown Restoration Programme. It was reported that $173.505 million was documented by the Council as being used for capital works, with $131.382 million being for expenditure on five projects and $42.123 million being used to purchase office equipment and furniture.

However, the AG reports that the contracts, payment vouchers and other supporting documents were not presented for audit, nor was the equipment and furniture presented for physical verification.

McGarrell, said the ministry had written to the council indicating the importance of providing that information, but pointed again to the role of the AG in ensuring enforcement.

“…They say they buy furniture, you can’t see the furniture, you can’t see the contract, you can’t see the payment voucher, you ain get no cheque to show it was paid. Where this money went? Into thin air?” Edghill queried.

MP Nigel Dharamlall, having asked McGarrell whether he has seen documentation of the Council’s decisions to approve expenses and McGarrell indicating that he had not, recommended that a special audit be conducted at the M&CC and criminal proceedings be launched if required.

Ali recalled that similar recommendations had been made last year, but added that they had encountered the same issue with documentation not being produced.

“…The agency is refusing blatantly to give the Auditor General a report. The ministry nor the auditor general office can identify any expenditure by this agency, so there is nothing in the financial arena and operations of this agency that can be really explained and verified because of the attitude towards not only the auditor general office but the ministry, and if the two strongest arms…having this difficulty then it leaves us in a very difficult position here at the PAC,” Ali concluded.

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