By Edward Layne
Accusations of secrecy and possible corruption are mounting at the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) after it was unearthed that the Council has four bank accounts which are not being reflected in its financial statements presented at statutory meetings, Councillor Bishram Kuppen has alleged.
Kuppen, a People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Councillor, told a Monday morning news conference that these accounts remain a secret as information from the authorities on them was not forthcoming, despite constant requests from Councillors.
He explained that at the Council’s first statutory meeting after the swearing in, he went through the report, including the financial statement, and the discovery of the four accounts was made.
“I went through the entire report; it was a very thick report and towards the end would have the financial statement reconciliation, the heading of it would be reconciliation of the main account, right away I wanted to know are there secondary accounts? Are there more and I posed that question to the Council. After a number of attempts, the City Treasurer just blurted it out that there were four additional accounts, and each subsequent statutory meeting, I keep pushing for those additional accounts to be included in the reconciliation of the financial statement. All those accounts should be included,” Kuppen explained, but complained that no moves were being made to have the accounts included.
The City Councillor said information requested about where the accounts were held and the amount of monies in them was not forthcoming.
The PPP/C Councillor went on to say that the affairs of the municipality were mired in secrecy, thus leading to constant accusations of corruption.
“There is the widespread perception that corruption is rampant at City Hall. This perception is fuelled by the lack of accountability for hundreds of millions of dollars spent on projects with no public tendering, improper financial reporting, four hidden bank accounts which are not included in any financial reports to Councillors, and financial deficits being reported on a consistent basis every month,” Kuppen said.
The Councillor said it was a sad state of affairs at the municipality as information on many other projects and programmes, expenditures, as well as contracts continued to be ‘state secrets’.
“I am deeply troubled about what is going on at City Hall, regarding the lack of accountability and transparency, as it relates to the city’s finances with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money being spent without any credible financial reports or audits performed for the money spent as required by the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chap 28:01, Sect 177,” Kuppen said.
The City Councillor also renewed a call for there to be a forensic audit of the municipality’s account, which he said should be a normal practice whenever a new administration took over, pointing to the argument Central Government used when it embarked on dozens of forensic audits of State agencies, following the May 11, 2015 General and Regional Elections.
As a matter of fact, Kuppen attempted to move a motion for a forensic audit on three occasions by submitting a written request to the Mayor and Town Clerk to have the motions included on the agenda for the statutory meeting.
On each occasion, he said, the Town Clerk responded that he found fault with the motions but did not advise what those deficiencies were.
“It is my firm belief that my motion for a forensic audit is being deliberately blocked by the Town Clerk and others. The City of Georgetown is not an independent sovereign state, and it is in the interest of all citizens and the Central Government to ensure that a forensic audit is conducted of the City’s finances as soon as possible,” the Councillor argued.
Kuppen said he was not the only Councillor who was of the view that there needed to be an audit of the city’s operations, as many other Councillors shared similar views.
Only early last month, former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran called for an immediate in-depth audit into the Council.
Goolsarran insisted that 10 years of arrears in terms of financial reporting and auditing was not only a “disturbing trend” but also showed that the Council had no interest in bringing the accounts to order.
He stated that as of August 2013, the last set of audited accounts of the Council was for 2004 and the Audit Office had received financial statements for the years 2005 and 2007. There is no evidence to suggest that any financial statements were produced for 2006.
According to the Municipal and District Councils Act, within four months of the close of the financial year, the city treasurer is required to prepare and submit to the auditor, financial statements for that year for audit. If the treasurer fails to comply, he/she will be guilty of an offence.
It has been over a decade that the M&CC, dominated by the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), a main partner in the governing coalition, has failed to make any public presentation of its financial position.