Lack of workforce quota casts doubts on gov’t wage bill

-Edghill tells Auditor General

With the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) determining that there is no declared quota for the size of the work force of government agencies, opposition PPP/C Member of Parliament (MP) Juan Edghill yesterday raised concerns over how their effectiveness could be pro-perly assessed and whether the correct amounts are being allocated for wages.

Yesterday’s meeting of the Public Accounts Com-mittee (PAC) brought Regional Executive Officers (REOs) Ovid Morrison, of Region Five, and Kim Williams-Stephen, of Region Six, before the parliamentary committee to have their regions’ 2016 accounts examined based on the Auditor General’s report from that year.

The aforementioned regions, like the regions before them, were questioned on their authorised staffing strength and asked to account for any increases in their staffing list, as well as asked to divulge whether any employees were hired on contract following a circular sent out to agencies to transition to a fixed employment system.

What was revealed, through hours of tedious questioning, was that there was in fact no fixed employee quota, as positions may be created as the need arises.

What, therefore, resulted, was that the figures presented by the Auditor General (AG) as being the “authorised strength” of the agencies—that is, the ideal number of employees needed for the agency to function effectively—was actually the current or actual strength, and was based on the number of employees that were approved to work in the region as recorded in the budget estimates, which would make reference to figures for the previous year.

This was made clear as Williams-Stephen, when asked how she determined her staffing strength, stated that it was determined by the payroll.

“There’s a big issue that I would like to have the Audit Office of Guyana address… part of the audit process is to check to see if payrolls have been padded, if salaries have been paid outside of the established numbers, and to ensure that a region is not hiring, or an agency is not hiring in an unauthorised manner. If, at the time of the Appropriation Act there is no declaration of what exists and what is to be filled, how can the Audit Office effectively audit an agency to check to see if there is excess?” Edghill posed to the AG Deodat Sharma.

He further stated that while in the past the authorised strength of an agency would be declared, that no longer applies, and theorised that because this is so, “any number can be thrown up at the end of the year” as the authorised figure. Edghill opined that agencies should have an idea of the numbers of workers required to function in any given position for maximum productivity, and in this way, the effectiveness of a body can be measured.

“That poses a serious query to the audit office because we don’t have a number to compare with, so what we actually use is the estimates that’s approved,” Sharma replied, before adding that any increases or decreases to the number recorded in the estimates is what is queried.

This information led Edghill to question whether the wage bill as presented in the budget was in fact a misrepresentation, causing Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence to passionately challenge the MP to take his concerns to the appropriate forum—the National Assembly.

“Based on this present practice, sir, would it be true if I say that at the time of the passing of the Appropriations Act, the true wage bill was not reflected? Because that is what we’re telling the nation here today; we passed a wage bill for this nation that is not a true reflection of our wage bill for the year,” said Edghill.

“Mr Chair, on a point of order, where are we going? Are we at Public Accounts Committee dealing with the public accounts of the Auditor General or are we here having a debate that the National Assembly should be having? If the member feels that way, then the procedure is for him to take a question to the National Assembly or he can carry a matter so that it can be debated within the National Assembly,” Lawrence stated. “And since I’m on the point of order, the Auditor General said he used the authorised positions and the estimates. I have both 2014 and 2016 estimates and they only show you what were filled. There’s no authorised numbers in these accounts,” she added.

Review of hiring practices

During extensive questioning of the REOs on the process of hiring within their respective regions, it was revealed that there is confusion on the parts of the accounting officers on what was the accepted process of recruitment by government agencies.

Williams-Stephen, for example, related that the region does not usually advertise vacancies, but instead, reviews from a list of applications on-file, from which persons are called in and hired. Asked by PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali if the region had received approval for this mechanism, the REO directed the question to the Principal Personnel Officer Nanda Koaralall, who explained that the REO’s office is approved to make recommendations for certain positions, at the levels “G1 and G2”. Above those levels, she stated, vacancies would need to be advertised by the Public Service Ministry (PSM), which is now the Department of Public Service.

Morrison, on the other hand, when being questioned about the instance of an employee hired within that region as a heavy duty driver also carrying out the functions of the Transport Officer, said that in creating and filling the position of the Transport Officer, a recommendation was made to the PSM for the employee to fill the role.

Morrison, in defending his actions, had stated that if it is the case that the skills are not within the current staffing structure, only then are they required to do internal posting of vacancies. Notably, however, in the acknowledgement letter sent by the PSM to the region in relation to this particular matter, the REO was instructed to widely advertise the vacancy.

“The processes are there to ensure efficiency, to ensure accountability, to ensure fairness, to ensure transparency, and part of the reason behind putting the posting is to ensure that every single person has equal access and equal opportunity to whatever is available to the organisation,” Ali explained to Morrison.

Morrison assured that the process of recruitment would be corrected in future.

Williams-Stephen, on the other hand, accepted that regardless of the region’s ability to recommend persons to the PSC for a position, all positions still need to be advertised.

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