Focus on effecting changes in government departments – Min. Lawrence tells PAC

DPI, Guyana, Monday, April 9, 2018

Minister of Health, Volda Lawrence today chided members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for introducing extraneous matters to the functions of the committee at its sittings.

The minister was at the time responding to a line of questioning by Committee Chairperson, Irfaan Ali, and members Juan Edghill and Nigel Dharamlall, that was based on inaccurate information.

Minister of Health, Volda Lawrence.

The issue at hand was whether approved spending for the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) was based on identified authorised strength.

“The budget will show us that for a long period the budget never reflected the authorised staff nor anything to do with how many vacancies there were, but we now have that,” Minister Lawrence said.

Based on responses from the Region Number Five RDC, regarding the filling of vacancies, Minister Lawrence further queried whether the auditor feels the time has come for him to have a new look at the manner and category of information being presented in his reports on public spending.

“I am wondering from the Auditor General’s perspective whether he doesn’t believe that he needs to restructure what he is sending to the Public Accounts Committee…Wouldn’t the Auditor General have checked or asked for the evidence to ensure that what the officer is saying to us is, one, that these vacancies are on the PSC’s circular, and two, that they have been there for some time?” Minister Lawrence questioned.

She then remarked, “the Auditor General needs to check that, and that he or she…did make the requisite representation at the PSC, which has given them the approval to act on matters pertaining to the employment of persons within their various agencies.”

Meanwhile, Committee member, Juan Edghill called on the Auditor General to investigate whether payrolls across the regions are misrepresented or whether staff have been hired in an unauthorised manner.

“If at the time of the appropriation act there is no declaration of what exists and what is to be filled, how can the audit office effectively audit an agency to check to see if there is excess, because in the past there was a declaration of what is the authorized strength what is the actual and what are vacancies…That model has since been removed. You’re only having an actual, and because you’re only having an actual, any number could be thrown up at the end of the year as authorized,” Edghill added.

In response to Edghill, Minister Lawrence interjected on a Point of Order and noted that the matters being raised were not for the PAC to discuss. “If the member feels that way, then the procedure is for him to either take a question to the National Assembly, or he can carry a matter so that it can be debated within the National Assembly.”

Minister Lawrence also deemed as inaccurate claims by Edghill that the standard for appropriations was changed in recent years.

Auditor General, Deodat Sharma.

“Since I am on a point of order, the Auditor General said he used the authorised positions at the estimates. I have both 2014 and 2016 estimates and they only show what was filled. There are no authorised numbers in these accounts. No authorised numbers in any of these entities. It shows you what was filled, not authorised,” Minister Lawrence added.

Granted the floor to address the Auditor General, committee member Nigel Dharamlall said, “I think that my job as a member of the PAC is to, whilst we are going through the Auditor General’s report, is so to ensure that the monies that have been appropriated are well spent, so it not just about sweeping these things under the carpet.”

To this, Minister Lawrence challenged committee member Dharamlall to contradict her claims that there were never in recent times a similar partisan approach to the work of the PAC.  “I have been the Chair of this Public Accounts Committee and there was never a time when the Public Accounts Committee has done its work without full collaboration with both sides of this house, and I say it without fear of contradiction. Because we focus on the issues, we saw it as a national issue, and we had to address it so that we can make the accountability within every agency in this country done in accordance with the rules and regulations.”

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), whose primary role is to examine Public Spending and make recommendations for improving accountability based on the Auditor General’s report, met today in Parliament Chambers to examine the Auditor General’s Report for Regions Five and Six for the year 2016.

According to the Auditor General’s reports, there were several issues relating to contracted employees, staff recruitment practices, procurement, the award of contracts, capital purchases, current expenditures, overpayments and utilization of contingencies funds among others in the regions.

Appearing before the PAC was Regional Executive Officers, Ovid Morrison of Region Five and Kim Williams Stephen of Region Six, accompanied by their technical officers.

 

By: Kidackie Amsterdam

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