Despite the City Council finally turning over records to the Auditor General’s (AG’s) office for audit, Members of Parliament were still dissatisfied on Monday and demanded that the City Treasurer provide answers to lingering questions.
At the last Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting held in February, AG Deodat Sharma stated that the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) had not afforded his office enough access to their records for the auditing process to be completed.
At that time, City Treasurer Ron McCalman had not been present at the hearing as he had a medical emergency.
On Monday, PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali related that the AG’s office has since been in receipt of documents from the M&CC for review, and ordered that the examination of the council’s accounts be suspended until the AG’s assessment is complete.
That assessment, according to Sharma, would take approximately two months. He related that the documents were received on Thursday and Friday last, and stated that his team was in the process of verifying them. He also noted that they are yet to carry out a physical verification at the council.
Despite Ali’s directive, Members of Parliament Juan Edghill and Nigel Dharamlall made several attempts to elicit from the Treasurer the reason why the documents had not been handed over earlier.
The two men pointed out to McCalman that it was his responsibility to ensure the documents were delivered on time, with Dharamlall concluding that his submission of documents one year after they were requested spoke to “incompetence.”
Even with the prodding, all McCalman related was that the documents were at the council but were difficult to retrieve. Sharma added that one of the issues the AG’s office had faced with the council was that the documents were stored in different locations and he informed the committee that it was recommended to the M&CC that there be a central location for storage.
Edghill, who was skeptical of this explanation, pointed out that even the documentation for “live transactions” in 2016 could not be handed over at the time of audit. Nevertheless, he opined that the provision of the documents would not address the council’s systemic issues, while pointing out that the M&CC has not been audited in years.
“I am talking here about a systemic problem that I am not sure the provision of documents would answer the question…how is it that payments could be made without any of the authorized officers signing the vouchers and approving it? That is a systemic thing…On 167 instances, where $159 million were spent there was no evidence of payment vouchers being certified by the accountant or in any other authorized officer…even if 167 vouchers show up now, would that change that systemic problem?” Edghill put forward.
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.