The Auditor General (AG) was asked to immediately dispatch a team on Monday to peruse Region Two’s financial records after the region’s engineer admitted that the accounting officer continued to breach financial rules.
Regional Executive Officer (REO) Rupert Hopkinson is suspected by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of continuing to disregard recommendations by both it and the AG to discontinue using current expenditure to fund capital items.
On Monday, while Region Two was being examined by the PAC, Chairman Irfaan Ali asked Hopkinson whether the situation had been corrected. Hopkinson said that it had.
But Ali pressed further, asking if when the 2017 accounts are examined, the same pattern of spending would be found.
“I believe you wouldn’t see anything Mr Chairman, I’m not so sure…,” Hopkinson responded.
“You have to be sure… this is where I’ll have a difficulty with you. We raised this issue last year. This year it is in the Auditor General report that you have capital expenditure financed from current resources. The job of the accounting officer is to correct it and to show the committee that it would not reoccur. Earlier you said that this situation has been corrected and now you are not sure. What would make you unsure? As the accounting officer of the region, have you approved any expenditure that was capital in nature to be paid under current in 2017?” Ali questioned.
“Not that I can recall Mr Chairman.”
Ali then queried what course of action Hopkinson believed should be taken if an examination of the accounts uncovered findings contrary to the information he had related.
“PAC and the ministry should examine the particular case,” Hopkinson said.
“Examine the what?” Ali replied, with a hint of disbelief.
“The particular case, because sometimes there are emergencies. I’m not saying that that occurred Mr Chairman—-,” Hopkinson started.
“No, no, no, no, no…REO…there are expenditures to deal with emergencies in the budget…you’re trying to create a justification that can’t even hold. You said that this thing didn’t reoccur, now you’re shifting your position,” Ali stated.
When Hopkinson maintained that he was unsure, Ali shifted focus to the region’s engineer, who he pointed out also bears some responsibility in the matter.
The engineer, Kawan Suchit, quickly extricated himself from culpability, pointing the finger back instead at the REO.
“Can you say, Mr Engineer, whether this situation has been corrected?” Ali enquired.
“No, the situation has not been corrected Mr. Chairman.”
“So you continue to finance capital projects from current resources?”
“Yes, the region would have done so.”
“On what authority?”
“On the REO’s instructions Mr Chairman,” Suchit said.
Ali pointed out that Suchit, too, was aware of the policy, and questioned his participation in “an illegal instruction.” Suchit responded that “the Works Department just follows the instructions of the region’s executive officers.”
Even with the engineer’s admittance, however, Hopkinson continued to state that the administration would check their accounts as they were “not sure” but Ali, after expressing his dissatisfaction with how the region’s affairs were being handled, directed an examination of the region’s accounts by the AG, declaring instead that, “we’re [the PAC] going to make sure.”
“Right here, contrary to the Auditor General’s recommendations and the financial norm, the REO is blatantly breaching everything…last year we gave you the lecture here…was it the year before too PS? When we asked for honesty when you come before PAC? And fullness of information?” the Chairman recalled.
“…This can’t be allowed to continue. If you’re going to have an accounting officer who in the face of all PAC recommendations and the Auditor General’s recommendations, continues to breach and give instructions in breach of those recommendations, then we will have problems,” Ali asserted.
The examination of Region Two’s accounts had not been complete at the conclusion of Monday’s meeting as all the time allocated for the hearing had elapsed.