Councillor on the Georgetown Mayor and City and City (M&CC), who is also the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Oscar Clarke, has admitted that there is a backlog of audited financial statements but affirmed that the council is now trying to ‘catch up’.
“There has been a lag in the presentation of statements for auditing but we are catching up… I think we are very close to catching up and I’m sure that before the end of this year, we will be up to last year,” Clarke said on Thursday during a handing over ceremony at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development in Kingston, Georgetown.
On Tuesday, via a video statement, President Irfaan Ali lamented that the council provided no financial statements for 10 years and in the other years, the information provided could not be verified.
Responding to the concerns raised by the President, Clarke said: “I don’t know what he is talking about unless it can be particularised what he is talking about.”
When asked, however, if he saw any problems with the financial statements submitted, Clarke answered, “There are always issues in the statements and we have to go back and forth with them to ensure that we get them correctly.
“Unless you can particularise and say specifically what we are talking about, I will not be in a position to answer.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall, who was seated next to the councillor, highlighted that there is a “massive backlog” in the submission of audited statements.
“The fact is they have not been able to get their financial statements audited. I hope that the Head of the Finance Committee, who is Mr Clarke, is taking note of it. We are very serious about these issues as a government,” the minister underscored.
According to President Ali, 2004 was the last year in which an audit was done and the Audit Office even then indicated, via disclaimer, that it could not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided. A similar disclaimer was issued in 2005.
For the period 2006-2011, there were no financial statements submitted, the President said and from 2012 to 2015, financial statements were submitted but the information supplied did not allow the auditors to express an opinion.
For the year 2016-2020, no financial statements were submitted, the President said also.
Cognisant of this, Minister Dharamlall said, “I think Mr. Clarke has indicated that they will make an effort to get that done and we look forward to that (getting) done.”
Importantly, the minister also noted that the M&CC has an annual budget of about $2 billion and the government is interested in seeing that this money is well-spent. It is for this reason, he contended, audited statements are important.
But, according to Minister Dharamlall, the government is “not comfortable” with the way finances are currently managed at the City Council. This discomfort, he said, was exacerbated by complaints received from contractors who are owed large sums of money.
“I believe one of the stumbling blocks to the development of Georgetown is the performance of the current Mayor (Ubraj Narine) who has been recalcitrant in dealing professionally with the government,” the Local Government Minister said.
Meanwhile, Councillor Clarke highlighted that many of the financial challenges faced by the council were inherited from previous town council administrations.
“We have inherited them and what is happening is that we are seeking to do something about it but there is no money,” he lamented.