Officials who lose oil money through misconduct to be held personally liable
The law explicitly prohibits the misuse or misapplication of public funds, which Guyana’s petroleum revenues are, and outlines penalties for failure to adhere.
Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh has said that it is “absolutely inaccurate and false” to say there are no penalties for misappropriation of oil funds.
Section 48 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA), titled ‘misuse of public moneys’ states:
“A Minister or official shall not in any manner misuse, misapply, or improperly dispose of public moneys.”
Section 49 of FMAA, titled ‘liability for loss of public moneys’ states:
- If a loss of public moneys should occur and, at the time of that loss, a Minister or official has caused or contributed to that loss through misconduct or through deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care, that Minister or official shall be personally liable to the Government for the amount of the loss.
- Where the misconduct or disregard of the person is not the sole cause of the loss referred to in subsection (1), the person shall be liable to pay only so much of the loss as is just and equitable having regard to the person’s share of the responsibility for the loss.
- If a loss of public moneys should occur and, at the time of that loss, a Minister or official had nominal custody of such moneys, that Minister or official shall be personally liable to the Government for the amount of the loss.
The semantics of these provisions are detailed in unquoted provisions of Section 49.
With a series of provisions governing the use of public funds, the FMAA also outlines punishment if it is contravened.
Section 85 of FMAA, titled ‘Liability of official’ states:
Any official who –
- Falsifies any account, statement, receipt or other record issued or kept for the purposes of this Act, the Regulations, the Finance Circulars or any other instrument made under this Act;
- Conspires or colludes with any other person to defraud the State or make opportunity for any person to defraud the State; or
- Knowingly permits any other persons to contravene any provisions of this Act, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable on conviction to a fine of two million dollars and to imprisonment for three years.
Building on these laws, the PPP/C Government’s Natural Resource Fund Act 2021 has dedicated Sections 35-40 to ‘Penalties and Offences’ in Part VIII. These provisions emphasise the importance of transparency and accountability. They will be vital as the government operationalises the Fund to finance development programmes which will improve the lives of all Guyanese.