City Hall still to account for $70M from gov’t restoration subventions

-CoI hears

Dhanraj Persaud

According to the Auditor General’s Office, the city administration has still not accounted for $70.48 million of a total of $500 million allocated to it by Central Government for the restoration of Georgetown in 2015 and 2016.

Testifying yesterday at the Critchlow Labour College, Audit Manager Dhanraj Persaud told the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the administration and operation of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) that the Audit Office has continuously faced difficulty in accessing financial documents from the city.

By law, he noted, the accounts of the council should be submitted within 120 days of the close of the financial year but the Audit Office is still to be provided with supporting documents for the year 2005 as well as for the period 2012 to 2015.

He explained that though Town Clerk Royston King has only held the post since July, 2015, his office is still legally responsible for providing the required information as is the Office of the City Treasurer, though that office holder has changed over the years.

“For 2005, no documents were provided, just financial statements, while for 2012 damaged documents were provided,” he said, while stressing that the financial statements provided by the city were not prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.

“We cannot issue an opinion on financial statements that are not prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles,” he repeatedly noted in response to a request that he make pronouncements on the quality of financial management at City Hall.

The same sentiment has been voiced by Auditor General Deodat Sharma, who earlier this year told the Public Accounts Committee that his office had not been afforded enough access to the City Council’s records to judge whether its accounts are “clean.”

Like Sharma, Persaud noted that the city is unable to account for large sums allocated for restoration initiatives to facilitate environmental improvement and improved health and well-being.

According to Persaud, a special audit into this subvention from the Ministry of Communities has found City Hall unable to account for $70.48 million of the $500 million allocated over the two years of 2015 and 2016. $300 million was allocated in 2015 and $200 in 2016.

Persaud explained that a report of the Audit Office’s findings was presented to City Hall for a response within 30 days, as required by law, but to date no response has been received.

“One July 3rd, we received a letter, dated June 30th, asking for a 30-day extension… [then] they tried to reach out to us on August 13th, but I was out of the jurisdiction. On my return, we tried to reach them but couldn’t until they reached out again on September 24th,” Persaud told Commissioner Cecil Kennard.

In his 2016 report, Sharma noted that the budgeted $200 million for Georgetown restoration initiatives was spent at December 31st, 2016. However, on December 22nd, 2016, the M&CC submitted a report on capital works, with expenditure amounting to $173.505 million, $26.495 million less.

Specifically, $173.505 million was spent on five projects and $42.123 million for the purchase of office equipment and furniture. The five projects covered by the allocation were the Kitty Market reconstruction, for which $60 million was spent; the Constabulary Training School, on which $23 million was spent; the City Engineer’s building, on which $13 million was spent; the Constabulary Building (headquarters), on which $12 million was spent; and the Albouystown clinic, on which $21 million was spent.

“Although some of the capital projects were completed, contract documents and the related payment vouchers were still not presented for audit examination,” the report added.

In his 2015 report, the Auditor General had also raised concerns about the manner in which the administration of Georgetown spent a $300 million government subvention, also for restoration initiatives, environmental improvement and improved health and well-being. $6.2 million of the sum was spent on the purchase of a double cab pickup for the City Constabulary, $52.163 million for the de-bushing of the Le Repentir Cemetery and $241.637 million for the restoration of Georgetown.

According to Sharma, the basis of the award of several contracts for the weeding of parapets, desilting of drains and cutting down trees in various areas around Georgetown could not be determined due to the unavailability of supporting documents. As a result, it could not be determined whether proper transparency and accountability were exercised in the awarding of the contracts.

The Audit Office examined 212 payment vouchers and pinpointed discrepancies, including 167 instances where there was no evidence of the vouchers being certified by the accountant or any other authorised officer; 140 vouchers, totalling $143.683 million, which had not been approved by the treasurer; and 58 payments, totalling $48.404 million, which had not been approved by the Finance Committee.

Additionally, there was no evidence of receipt or payee acknowledgement for a payment of $750,000 to a contractor.

The Audit Office has repeatedly recommended that the ministry ensure that the Council locate all contracts and related documentation and capital items purchased and inform the Audit Office in order to facilitate audit verification.

Following myriad complaints about the administration and operations of the M&CC, the Local Government Commission took a decision to constitute the CoI, which will examine, advise and report on irregularities that possibly exist at the local government body.

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