PAC orders criminal investigation into 2018 project; cheques prepared, works incomplete
After what appeared to be a departure from standard payment procedures, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has ordered a criminal investigation into the $4.6 million renovation works done at a self-acting sluice in the western section of Lusignan in 2018.
While examining the 2018 Auditor General’s Report on Monday, both government and opposition members of the PAC shared concerns about the payment procedures involved in this contract.
It was found that payments for incomplete works had been certified and processed. Former engineer attached to the Ministry of Public Security, Dannie Ramdolar, however, maintained that works had been completed and only remedial works were being executed.
The contract for the renovation works needed at the sluice was signed on December 5, 2018; it had a duration for completion of two months and a defects liability period of three months.
And the Auditor General’s Report stated that an Engineer attached to the Ministry of Public Security certified that works were completed on December 16, 2018; physical verification on May 3, 2019, however, found that the engineer was still on-site effecting works to the structure.
“As such, the Engineer falsely certified that the works were completed since December 2018,” the report noted, while also flagging shoddy works done.
Asked pointedly by Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Ganesh Mahipaul if he falsely certified the works, Ramdolar responded in the negative. He admitted that shoddy works were done but said that in 2019, the contractor was only performing remedial works.
As noted in the Auditor General’s Report, payments were certified and processed (but not yet paid) for incomplete works- a concern that Ramdolar maintained was not true.
Because the work was purportedly completed in 2018, it was found that documents may have been falsified in 2018 to permit the expenditure of money budgeted for that year.
The final payment voucher which has the full amount of the contract, the PAC heard, was dated December 17, 2018. And that voucher indicated that the works were certified on December 17, and that a payment of $1.5 million was due then.
“Payment was not issued until everything was completed and that was after May (2019),” Ramdolar told the PAC.
Government MP and Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill, however, noted that this should not have been done.
“If two weeks after you sign a contract, you prepare a final payment voucher that went to the Ministry’s Finance department for payment…when the work was not completed, it was not done, (then) we’re in breach, serious breach,” an exasperated Edghill stated.
Further, Edghill reminded the Committee that based on the Auditor General’s report, there were numerous incomplete works that were part of the substantive project and not remedial works. This, he said, further worsens the concerns about the certification of payments.
Former Permanent Secretary of the then Ministry of Public Security Daniella McCalmon then told the PAC the payments were processed in this manner to facilitate the retrieval of funds at the end of the year.
But Accountant General Jennifer Chapman disagreed, noting that the former Permanent Secretary should have only processed the mobilisation sum in the contract. Later, Edghill said that the sum should have been re-budgeted in 2019, as a rollover project.
“The rules are that unexpended sums must be returned to the consolidated fund and there is nothing stopping you, in your budget next year, to ask for the sums to be allocated as a multiyear project.
“What is difficult for me to understand is that two weeks after the contracts were signed, you prepared everything in full,” Edghill lamented.
With Ramdolarr maintaining the substantive works set out in the contract were completed in December 2018 and only remedial works continued in 2019, the PAC ordered further action.
Edghill asked that a criminal investigation be called; this was seconded by Mahipaul. This call was approved by PAC Chair Jermaine Figueira, who said that Finance Secretary Sukrishnanlall Pasha would be guided by the PAC’s decision.
Figueria also asked Ramdolar to recuse himself from further examination of the ministry.