Region Two’s Regional Democratic Council (RDC) has distanced itself from Regional Executive Officer (REO) Rupert Hopkinson’s unauthorised spending, while denying his claim that funds were only for emergency purposes.
The RDC has also categorically stated that it “has no confidence” in Hopkinson to continue as the Accounting Officer and is calling “for appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken for his breach of financial regulations and other wrongdoings.” In a statement issued last Friday, the RDC also registered its disappointment, stating that repeated efforts were made by the Council to have Hopkinson comply with the financial rules, highlighting several instances including the alleged misuse of millions of dollars of the region’s monies.
An emergency audit recently conducted of the region uncovered breaches in the procurement laws, misallocation and misuse of funds, retention of funds past the financial year and overpayments.
At a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing last week Monday, Hopkinson told PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali that the region’s use of current resources to fund capital projects was necessary because there were cases of emergency. Furthermore, Hopkinson stated that in each instance, he had the support of the programme heads.
However, in a missive sent out by the region’s Chairman Devanand Ramdatt, it was stated that “most, if not all” the projects for which the breach occurred were in fact not emergencies. Ramdatt also denied that the projects were approved by the RDC.
Furthermore, he stated that there were much more pressing matters that could have been funded had Hopkinson followed the advice of the region’s Councillors and programme heads.
“There are numerous other priorities for Region Two than fencing parks that are not utilised. The Cotton Field sitting area was strongly objected to by residents, the Anna Regina Town Council and the RDC,” the letter related.
The Chairman opined that there were other projects of much more priority that could create a better impact, including the installation of a generator at the Public Hospital Suddie, works to the Capoey Primary School septic tank and the Charity Secondary School, fixing of community roads, the cleaning of the Hackney Friendship canals and the maintenance of drainage and irrigation structures.
“The RDC continues to make every dedicated effort to ensure that resources available to the region be prudently managed with the objective of positively impacting on the lives of all residents in the region…Hopkinson as the Accounting Officer fails to follow recommendations and decisions taken by the RDC at its Statutory Meetings. Due to such negligence and incompetence, the REO, who also serves as Clerk of the RDC, has created numerous pending matters that [cause] residents, more precisely students [to be] affected,” the statement said.
It was claimed that requests by the RDC for details of budget and procurement management were always denied by the REO, and that he neither attended nor provided reports to the finance committee. It was further stated that despite audit queries over the years, Hopkinson continues to breach procurement and financial guidelines and regulations.
The statement highlighted that at the last statutory meeting of the council, matters of malpractice were discussed and among the issues raised was the “abuse of millions of dollars from the RDC’s economic project accounts, including the “Essequibo Night Account”.
It was further claimed that the region still has outstanding monies for workers contracted to clean the roadways since 2016, as well as workers hired to clean the school compounds in September, 2017.
Other matters highlighted were poor implementation of 2018 projects, drawing complaints from residents about the quality of works; delays in the signing of vouchers, affecting the completion of projects; insanitary and unsafe conditions within schools, with many school toilets reportedly being out of order due to unavailable building materials and some schools being closed due to deteriorating conditions; untimely supply of dietary items to dorms; and the unavailability of parts for the repair of several machines needed to prepare drainage and irrigation dams.