-but al­leged theft of $639M was re­ferred by pres­i­den­tial min­istry

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL & WORLD NEWS -

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.

Ex­cep­tional re­port­ing

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

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