Parliamentary committee rejects Ministry’s suspension request

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After approximately three hours of internal discussion, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Monday rejected a request by the Ministry of Communities to suspend public scrutiny of the affairs of several administrative regions.

The Ministry wanted the suspension so as to give regional administrators more time to prepare to answer questions.

But the resumption of Monday’s meeting did not go too well for the accounting officers of Region Ten (Upper Demerara Berbice) who were sent out of the Committee to “get their act and information together”.

Region Ten once again was ill-prepared to answer basic questions, prompting both PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali and Committee Member Volda Lawrence to reprimand them.

In response to the Ministry’s request for suspension, Ali had contended at the opening of the session that the 2016 Auditor General Report – on which questions are centered – has been in the public domain for more than one year.

Ali further asserted that the Auditor General, Accountant General and Finance Secretary would have held meetings with the various regions in order to prepare the officials.

However, Volda – who is also Minister of Public Health – interjected and asked that the Committee to meet privately to discuss the Ministry’s request for suspension.

After close to three hours on an in-chambers discussion, the PAC decided to allow the scrutiny of the remaining regions to continue.

But Regional Executive Officer (REO) Orrin Gordon and the Region’s Engineer, Gavin Clarke could not provide PAC with basic information such as the date a contract was signed and the criteria used in the evaluation process of bids.

When Gordon was being questioned about the overpayment of $394,962 to a contractor for the construction of a fence at the Coomacka Nursery School, he could not provide the Committee with the date the contract was signed. He merely gave an estimation.

At this point, a frustrated Lawrence contended “accounting is an exact science, you don’t guess or say next week, it’s an exact science, the Chairman is asking for the date, you cannot go back and give him the same answer.”

She continued: “Ask one of your officers to provide the information. If they don’t, then let them get up, go outside, and call the office, and get the date, and just ask the Chair if we can hold on the question while you get the answer.”

After several rounds of the officials being unable to answer certain questions, Ali scolded them for wasting the PAC’s time and sent them away to get their “act and information together”.

The PAC is responsible for examining the spending of public funds across the country, particularly audited accounts as presented in the Auditor General’s Annual Reports.

The PAC has completed its work regarding the 2016 accounts of government ministries and is in the process of wrapping up its scrutiny of the regions.

But many of the regional officials are unable to answer basic questions regarding the spending of public monies in their regions.

Only recently, the PAC was forced to ask the Finance Secretary Dr Hector Butts to exercise his powers under the law to investigate Region Five after the REO, Ovid Morrison was unable to provide certain information to both the PAC and the Auditor General’s Office.

Members of the PAC include Valerie Patterson Yearwood, Audwin Rutherford, Charandass Persaud, Jermaine Figueira and Volda Lawrence along with Pauline Sukhai, Nigel Dharamlall, Juan Edghill and Irfaan Alli.

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