-but alleged theft of $639M was referred by presidential ministry
While denying reports that the accounts of the former Public Service Ministry (PSM) were not audited prior to 2014, Auditor General Deodat Sharma on Friday disclosed that the alleged theft of $639 million during the tenure of former minister Jennifer Westford was referred to his office by the Ministry of the Presidency (MoTP).
“No, I think this was a matter referred to us from the Office of the President [now MoTP] and the Audit Office and the police worked together on that matter but the conclusion of it I cannot say, because it went to court and its in court,” Sharma said when asked whether his office had picked up any unusual activity at that ministry from 2011 to 2014, the period during which the money was allegedly stolen.
The PSM came under great public scrutiny after Westford and her aide Margaret Cummings were criminally charged with the theft of the money. The charges against them were dismissed last month, leaving behind questions and concerns.
The two women were accused of taking the money between the period October 19th, 2011 and April 28th, 2015, a period that includes years when there were no reports on the PSM in the Auditor General’s reports.
Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran had told this newspaper that for the years 2006 to 2013, there is no section in the respective Auditor General’s reports relating to the PSM.
“Considering that the Auditor General uses the full reporting approach, as opposed to exception reporting where only discrepancies are reported, the absence of any comment on the PSM may raise doubts as to whether any audit was undertaken during these years. If no audits were undertaken, this would have given the Ministry a free reign to do whatever it wanted with the funds allocated to it. This is something that the Auditor General needs to explain,” Goolsarran had said.
Stabroek News conducted a physical check of reports, which are available on the Audit Office of Guyana website, and was able to confirm that there was no mention of the PSM for the fiscal years ending December 31st, 2006 to December 31st, 2013. For the fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Sharma made mention of police investigations into certain expenditures, discrepancies and lack of documents for verification purposes.
Asked to explain why no audits were conducted prior to 2014, Sharama questioned the origin of this information before noting that if checks are made with the accounting officer, it would be seen that “every single entity has been audited.”
When asked if such information is contained in the reports, he responded “no,” before proceeding to provide an explanation.
“…Because we are doing exceptional reporting we do not report, if …all queries are cleared. And we are also looking at materiality,” he said.
Sharma stated that for example, a management letter may have about 60 paragraphs but eventually when the accounting officer comes and the contents are discussed, “it might cut down to about 30. It depends on the materiality and the information
they give us, so some of these entities like [the] Public Service Ministry, a lot of the expenditure there would be on the employment cost and scholarship and once we find that is okay, then there will be no queries or they would have cleared the queries.”
Audits of the year 2014 and 2015 found several discrepancies in ministry’s accounts, inclusive of purchased items which could not be found. Asked about this and whether the ministry, which has since been reclassified the Department of Public Service within the Ministry of the Presidency, is featured in his latest report, he responded, “Yes. As I said we do every single ministry [and] departments, so we will have follow up priority matters if there are issues.” Guyana Police Force)
The Audit Office of Guyana is responsible for scrutinising the expenditure of public funds. The Office conducts financial audits of all publicly-funded entities, including donor-funded entities, local government agencies and trade unions in Guyana.
Sharma would have conducted an audit during the following year after the relevant documents are submitted to him. The various ministries and agencies are given a chance to respond to the observations before the final report, which includes recommendations, are submitted to the Speaker of the National Assembly at the end of September.
On February 1, 2016, Westford and Cummings were faced with a total of 24 counts of larceny by a public officer and after they denied the charges, they were granted $200,000 bail on each charge, amounting to a total of $4.8 million to be paid to the court. Based on the available information, the charges stemmed from a police investigation and were based on a review of the case by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). There is nothing to indicate that either the Auditor-General or the Accountant-General conducted a separate investigation.
It was alleged that between the period October 19th, 2011 and April 28th, 2015, they stole a total of $639,420,000, belonging to the Government of Guyana, which they received by virtue of employment.
Last month, all the charges were dismissed as the magistrate found that they were “bad in law.” Notice of an appeal of the decision has been served, although this newspaper has been unable to confirm if the appeal was filed.
The prohibited items found in the New Amsterdam Prison yesterday