The Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Communities has sought a suspension of the examination of regional accounts by the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), so that the accounting officers can better prepare for the hearings.
In an invited comment, Minister Ronald Bulkan yesterday stated that one of the reasons for the request was “the partisan” nature of the committee’s work.
“One of the reasons is that the work of the committee is taking on a very partisan role. There is a lack of objectivity in the work of the committee. This is one of the reasons why perhaps a discussion is necessary with accounting officers,” he told Stabroek News.
Reminded that several government parliamentarians sit on the nine-member committee and, therefore, have control over the nature of its work, Bulkan said the PAC has not had full representation of government members at meetings and that the whole line of questioning and the demeanour adopted by opposition members is suspect.
In a letter addressed to PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali, dated June 26th, 2018, PS Emil McGarrell made the request for the suspension to allow those with financial responsibility for Regional Democratic Councils extra preparation time. “While the Ministry is desirous of seeing this process through expeditiously, we are constrained to take this course of action due to the recent unsatisfactory level of performance before the PAC. This time will be used to have regional officials better prepare to assist the PAC in carrying out its mandate,” the letter stated.
Bulkan has clarified that his ministry is desirous of returning to the PAC after the other ministries and agencies have appeared.
“If the PAC proceeds with other agencies and returns to the regions, [it] will give us sufficient time,” he explained, while adding that during the period of reprieve the ministry will be making every effort to have the officers understand their “lack of discretionary powers and strict fiduciary responsibility.”
Asked if such an understanding might not have been better acquired before their employment, the minister said that the officers were in some cases “ambushed” since “some of this examination relates to period prior to their employment and questions not contained in Audit Report.”
PAC member Juan Edghill, who released McGarrell’s letter to the media yesterday, was not impressed by the request for a suspension. He pointed out that every region that appeared before the PAC has had the services of the Audit Office, the Accountant General and the Financial Secretary available to them to help with preparations.
“It was disclosed that these services have not been utilized by the officers, thus resulting in them being unprepared for their appearances before the PAC,” he related.
Time and again, Regional Executive Officers (REOs) over the past few months have been sent away from the hearings before the examination of their region’s accounts could be completed. It was always the case that the REOs and team could not provide satisfactory responses to questions posed by members of the PAC.
Bulkan has, however, challenged this narrative, stating, “I’m not sure it is accurate that they were unable to provide answers. It is more likely that certain members of the committee felt that there answer were not acceptable.”
Edghill, in a press release, accused the REOs of hiding behind the PS, and noted his objection to the suspension being granted.
“The nation should be appalled that duly appointed Accounting Officers of the ten Administrative Regions of Guyana are seeking shelter through the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities from appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly. This Committee is where these Accounting Officers are ultimately held accountable for their actions,” Edghill said.
He noted that the PAC unearthed instances of financial mismanagement within the regions, with some officers having been found to have violated a number of laws, including the Procurement Act and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA).
“The ineptitude, incompetence accompanied by the twin sins of ignorance and arrogance have been on open display in some of these sessions. More recently, the REO of Region Five wrote the Auditor General insinuating that documents would only be made available to the Audit Office when “He” approves it,” he stated, while reminding that two members of the Executive branch, namely, Minister Volda Lawrence and Minister within the Ministry of Communities Valerie Yearwood, sit as members of the PAC.
He also noted that the Financial Secretary, Dr. Hector Butts, under whose signature these officers are appointed by the powers vested in him by the FMAA, sits as an advisor at the PAC.
While he acknowledged that the decision to determine whether the examinations go on will be determined by a majority of the PAC membership, which the government holds, Edghill made it clear that he strongly disagreed with the request, and what he saw as the attempt by the public officers to stymie the work of the PAC. “This shameful and dismal performance of Public Officers must be dealt with by President [David] Granger and the Ministry of the Presidency because the buck stops at him, they are his representatives,” Edghill said.