Members of the Public Account Committee (PAC), during an examination of 2018 Auditor General’s report on Monday, were united in their outrage against former Region One engineer Rawle Boyer and other regional officials because of seemingly unscrupulous payment practices for works awarded.
Some of those unscrupulous practices included writing cheques for works not yet completed and overpaying contractors.
These practices were noted during the construction of a $14.9 million X-ray room/ laboratory at the Pakera District Hospital in Region One. The Auditor General pointed out that $13.4 million were paid to the contractor as at December 31, 2018.
At that time too, another $4.7 million cheque was prepared and held for the contractor and no performance security/ bond were seen for the contract.
When a physical verification of the project was done on May 23, 2019- months after the project’s January 23 deadlines- it appeared as though works were abandoned and the project was incomplete with no materials onsite.
Payments were, however, approved and processed by the Regional Democratic Council in excess of the work done.
Questioned about the sums paid, Boyer explained that the contractor did not request the mobilisation payment that is usually paid at the startup of works. So the contractor was eventually given the mobilisation advance plus the first part-payment when it was due.
He also admitted that the $4.7 million cheque was prepared though works had not yet been completed.
When the engineer and officials revealed what transpired, there was much outrage.
“The engineer cannot just sign for a cheque to be cut… if the project is not finished.
“The engineer seems to be not recognising that this is a violation of procurement rules,” Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Gail Teixeira said.
Opposition Parliamentarian Ganesh Mahipaul also expressed his dismay.
“Too many overpayments are coming before the Public Accounts Committee and we have established everytime that the failure is on the part of the engineers failing to do what they are employed to do,” he said.
These concerns prompted Public Works Minister Juan Edghill to suggest that these officers get much-needed training to handle state finances better. PAC Chairman Jermaine Figueria accepted this suggestion and asked Auditor General Deodat Sharma, Accountant General Jennifer Chapman and Finance Secretary Sukrishnalall Pasha to engage with this.
Pasha, however, noted that such training is already scheduled. While officers will undergo that training, Pasha said persons must be able to discern what practices are acceptable and what aren’t.