As a lecturer in Economics since 1989 I would often tell my students that there is no mystery in underdevelopment and no mystery either as to why nations are poor.
One explanation of what contributes to our poverty and underdevelopment are some observations at the recent Public Accounts Committee Hearings with the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, and how Regions in Guyana are made to operate: Responsibility without authority.
With the appointment of Regional Ministers, more than three decades ago, Guyana embraced the notion of Regionalism. So it is not unreasonable to expect that by now most conditions for Regions to function effectively would have been put in place. How can a Region grow and prosper without decentralisation of important functions?
Laws and policies must be obeyed. But, why must there be a law, in the first place, that prevents a Regional Executive Officer and his/her management team from deciding and implementing at the level of the Region the construction of a bus shed for residents in the Region, or that a Health Centre should be extended to allow for better delivery of health services to its residents, or have the authority to employ a Clerk to advance development in the Region? Why a broken landing, the only access to a school, should wait for approval from some official, centrally located, in the nation’s capital, burdened with his/her own tasks? Therein lies one explanation of our underdevelopment and poverty, as a nation.
I recall when I accepted this position of Regional Executive Officer I was told: “Take ownership of your Region. Don’t bring problems to us – bring solutions. I reminded one of my principals of those words, that served me as guiding principles, I must admit, until now.
I am mortified by the waste of needed resources utilised to facilitate the Public Accounts Committee Hearings – the ostentation and dramatisation, described in Guyana Times, March 13, 2018, with such words as “face off”, “show down”,”berated” and “slammed”. The Public Accounts Committee should be aware that it is dealing with Administrative Heads of Regions, who are worthy of respect, if only because of the responsibilities they shoulder and the fact they must return to their Regions following these hearings and be able command respect as government functionaries, after they were “slammed and berated”. This kind of language, not only debases the respect for these officials, but also interferes with their effectiveness.
This Letter to the Editor was precipitated, firstly, by an audit query, that funds from the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region’s Current allocations were used to execute Capital projects. While we understand that the use of Current allocations to fund Capital projects is acceptable but require the permission of the Minister of Finance, we would like to state that the six projects, undertaken from the Region’s 2017 savings of $250,000,000 were responses to emergencies. Significantly, these savings were made possible through responsible spending and prudent management controls by the Regional Administration. This is a historic accomplishment that deserves commendation from all Guyana. For, even an experienced economist cannot accurately predict the level of development this country will realise if every government Budget Agency should replicate this performance.
The real accomplishment from the savings from the budgetary allocations of Region 2 should not only be seen in the quantifiable terms, but also in terms of the potential development. Half a Billion Dollars ($500,000,000) in savings realized during the life of the current Administration must therefore be seen in that broad economic sense. The performance of the Region will ultimately lead to greater wealth and well-being for future generations.
We are of the opinion that the Public Accounts Committee acted correctly in ordering the swift audit to ensure government money is well spent, if indeed it felt something was amiss. But we are delighted that our actions brought relief to residents in the Region and that the major infraction was Misallocation (not Misappropriation) of funds.
Keep in mind though that when money is properly spent development takes place. But the reverse happens when money is not well spent. The challenge for the Public Accounts Committee and the Audit office, known only a few days ago for its unprecedented swiftness, is to revisit the previous years, particularly 2013 and 2014, where the Region itself uncovered cases where hundreds of millions of dollars in payments were made to a few, with little evidence of development commensurate with such spending.
I appreciate the public support and we are delighted, that the Region came to the aid of the children and teachers at Liberty, Pomeroon River, where Head teacher Pansy Garraway Allen reported to the media that the “all female staff had to stick their skirts in their tights during low tide and pull up the boats which was very strenuous to us as females”.
If applying sanctions on Region Two officials will set Guyana on course for real and serious development, well, let it be. I do not wish to prejudice the decision of the Public Accounts Committee. The Public Accounts Committee and the Audit Office must to do their work unhindered and “without fear or favour”.
But I must now place before the Guyanese taxpayers, that as Regional Executive Officer my own research uncovered that many laws were broken in “prior years”, and so these august bodies, given their current positions, are now compelled to revisit their own work, with similar swiftness, to recover, what I will describe as the “loss of potential development” of our Nation.
Rupert Hopkinson – Regional Executive Officer,
BS: Management Science; BS: Economics;
MS: Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology