PAC scrutinises M&CC’s $300 M City Restoration Project

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, examined the 2016 Auditor General’s (AG) Report, where several programmes under the former Ministry of Communities came up for questioning.

The Georgetown Restoration Project executed by the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) was among programmes scrutinised by the PAC at Parliament Buildings.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, MP

According to the AG’s Report, $300 million was allocated for the city restoration project. A number of discrepancies were unearthed after 212 payment vouchers were examined.

Among the discrepancies were the 167 instances totalling $159 million, where there was no evidence of payment vouchers certified by any accounting officer; no approval by the city treasurer on 140 vouchers totalling $143 million, and no evidence of the Finance Committee approving 58 payments totalling $48.4 million.

Minister of Public Works, Hon. Bishop Juan Edghill

The accounting officers also could not provide a reasonable explanation.

Committee Member and Minister of Public Works, Bishop Juan Edghill, MP, said the act by the M&CC is tantamount to fraud, since there are no checks and balances of the monies disbursed under that programme.

“I would like to ask that the PAC adopt a position that this particular $300 million, if it is not yet examined, by way of a forensic audit that it be examined because we have to start bringing City Hall to book.”

Committee Member and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, MP, noted that the M&CC is in breach of a number of financial regulations, and that the council must be held accountable.

“We will keep calling you back and you will keep telling us this story about who signs and who doesn’t sign…there are mistakes made obviously by staff from time to time, innocent mistakes, but when is becomes a pattern, it is no longer a mistake and unfortunately, Georgetown City Council has a pattern of this, not now for several years and with no effort to improve,” she said.

Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, Prema Roopnarine at the PAC meeting.

Meanwhile, a $1.1 billion settlement paid to BK International Inc. in relation to the Haags Bosh Sanitary Landfill in 2016 also came up for scrutiny.

Minister Edghill questioned the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, Prema Roopnarine, on the whereabouts of documentation of the settlement. She said that all efforts were made to locate the document at the ministry, but to no avail.

According to Bishop Edghill, once a matter is settled in the court and a judgement passed, it has to go through a process which involves Cabinet’s approval, the National Assembly and the Attorney General Chambers.

The PAC meeting at Parliament Buildings.

The ministry’s accounting officer was therefore instructed to engage the Ministry of Legal Affairs to locate the document and make it available to the committee within two weeks. She was also urged to locate the Cabinet paper on the matter.

The PAC is mandated to examine the audited accounts as presented in the AG’s Report.