Audit Office hindered in its duties – AG

first_img2017 estimates…grapples with staff shortage after proposed budget slashed by GovtThe proposed budget for the Audit Office of Guyana (AOG) was slashed by the Government side in the National Assembly during consideration of the 2017 Estimates of Expenditure, and the resultant consequences have since included the AOG grappling with not having adequate staff, or adequate funds to pay them.The proposed estimate for the AOG in the last budget was $771.2 million for that constitutional agency that is tasked with auditing ‘the state apparatus’, but Finance Minister Winston Jordan had decreased this sum to $754.9M.Auditor General Deodat Sharma says the AOG has been affected by the cut, being forced to relinquish plans to hire additional staff. And although central government’s accounts have been brought up to date, work has to be done on statutory bodies.“It (the budgetary cut) affected us because we were unable to bring on the rest of the staff that we needed, especially when carrying out our extended mandate,” the Auditor General related in a recent interview.“What is happening (is that) the country’s accounts have been brought up (to date), (and) I’m trying to bring all the other statutory bodies and their accounts up to date,” Sharma pointed out. “And without the adequate staff, it will delay me to bring these accounts up to date.”The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been vocal in its opposition to the budgetary cut. The party pointed out that the total budgetary allocation for constitutional agencies in 2016 was $8 billion, whereas it is only $6 billion in 2017.Former Junior Finance Minister Bishop Juan Edghill had, during a conference, reminded that a budget was a financial plan which articulated the direction of an organisation and the cost to get there. Therefore, he argued, by cutting the budgets, affected organisations would now have to re-organise priorities and neglect funding for some critical undertakings.“Whenever the Government reduces the allocations for constitutional agencies, they are actually preventing themselves from being scrutinised. For example, the Auditor General would say, ‘This is what we need.’ If you cut the Audit Office (budget), the Auditor General would have to re-organise his priorities, and so something will be left out; which means less scrutiny for Government,” he explained.The AOG has a wide remit, being responsible for auditing the public accounts of Guyana and presenting reports of those audits to the Minister of Finance, thence to the National Assembly. As laid out in Article 223 of the Constitution of Guyana, the AOG is authorised to audit all officers and authorities of the Government, including commissions.Slashing of the AOG’s proposed budget came on the heels of AG Deodat Sharma declaring in his 2015 Audit Report that Government had kept more than $500M, rather than depositing same into the Consolidated Fund. That report, made public in October 2016, had spoken of the millions of dollars used on the D’Urban Park construction, Mashramani celebrations, and $51.5M being spent on ‘music’.Nor was the AOG the only agency to have its proposed funding re-adjusted. PPP Chief Whip Gail Teixeira had lamented that constitutional agencies had altogether requested some $11 billion, but Government was willing to approve only some $6 billion, a difference of over $5 billion.The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has suffered the deepest cut in its budgetary proposals, with its 2017 budgetary request being slashed from $5.8 billion to a mere $2 billion.Government also reduced the budgetary requests for the Ethic Relations Commission (ERC) from $141.2 million to $84.9 million; the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC’s) budgetary requests from $15.02 million to $10.02million; the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission’s (IPC’s) requests from $33.1 million to $24.4 million; and the Rights of the Child (ROC) Commission’s request from $97 million to only $41.5 million.The Women and Gender Equality Commission requested $62.9 million but received only $42 million, while the Human Rights Commission received $34.1 million of the $74.9 million requested.The Minister of Finance also slashed the budgetary request of the Office of the Ombudsman — still without a head — from $50.3 million to $48.3 million; and the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, which has not yet been established, received $12.4 million of the $13.9 million requested.In response to questions emanating from the Opposition, Minister Jordan had argued that the allocations were made “in context of existing fiscal space and the consideration of the agencies’ requests within national development priorities.” (Jarryl Bryan)last_img read more