I read the letter by Michael B Joseph, Finance Secretary, published by Stabroek News yesterday `Reported statement by Auditor General on procurement breaches is astonishing’ with some astonishment.
Mr. Joseph, according to his letter, took issue with the comments made by Mr. Deodat Sharma, Auditor General, which were reported on by the local media. Mr. Sharma, in his comments, addressed: 1 – the issue of sole-sourced contracts in a recent news reports; 2 – the increased breaches of Guyana’s financial laws; and 3 – the non-implementation of recommendations for corrective action to be taken.
First, the reports from the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee in the local media, last year, had one common line – a line repeated when the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee reviewed different government ministries. It was that the recommendations for corrective action were not implemented. How can Mr. Joseph then object to the comments made by Mr. Sharma?
Second, the Audit Reports for 2014 (the last full year of the PPP/C government) and the 2016 (the first full year of the APNU+AFC Coalition Government) show a clear increase in breaches of Guyana’s financial laws.
The following are only some examples:
• Breaches of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act: 2014 – 47; 2016 – 82
• Breaches of the Procurement Act: 2014 – 16; 2016 – 71
• Overpayment on construction contracts: 2014 – 50; 2016 -126
• Misstatement of Appropriation Accounts: 2014 – 1; 2016 – 3
I ask again, how can Mr. Joseph then object to the comments made by Mr. Sharma?
Thirdly, Mr. Sharma complained about an increase in sole-sourced contracts and, in response, Mr. Joseph talks about single sourcing. Does Mr. Joseph understand the difference between sole-sourced contracts and single-sourced contracts? From his letter, it is clear that he either does not understand the difference or he is willfully trying to mislead Guyanese people by talking about single-sourced contracts when the issue is about sole-sourced contracts. In any case no right thinking Guyanese can accept Mr. Joseph’s position as a position that is untainted by bias and political influence.
Also, it is curious that Mr. Joseph went on to talk about the $150 million of taxpayers’ monies that was spent on 45 forensic audits when he ignored that these contracts were given to handpicked companies. Mr. Joseph talks about the audits without talking about the controversial nature of the award of the contracts for the very forensic audits. Mr. Joseph talks about what the audit finds while contradicting what was said by President David Granger. President David Granger in 2016 admitted that the audits did not find “sufficient evidence” to bring criminal charges against former government officials.
Mr. Joseph’s focus on reminding the Auditor General that he must be independent seems clearly misplaced. Given the clear failings in his own missive, the notion of independence should have been one that he reminded himself of.
In addition to being independent, the Auditor General also has a responsibility to be transparent. For the Auditor General to not respond to the questions from the local media corps because it puts the current Coalition Government in a bad light would be a dereliction of Mr. Sharma’s duty as Guyana’s Auditor General.