…SOCU probing matter since 2017
What was formerly known as the Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry was put under the microscope by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which examined several matters, including over $25 million in advances not being recovered after five years.
During Wednesday’s PAC meeting, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Sharon Hicks, was grilled on the missing money.
Advances totalling $39.6 million and $64.7 million were paid out in 2015 and 2016 from the Amerindian Purpose Fund. But, as of the 2016 Auditor General’s Report, $25.9 million had still not been recovered, and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) had become involved. In fact, Hicks said, SOCU’s involvement led to them being unable to reconcile the missing amount, since they carried off the relevant documents.
“There was an issue with the reconciliation and, in 2017, all the documents were taken by SOCU. So, we were unable to reconcile…. The documents have not been returned, and we have engaged them and they had indicated that they had not completed their investigation,” she said.
“I can only assume (that) because the documents were large in number, they handed the documents over to them. I’m assuming…I was not there,” PS Hicks further informed the committee, after PAC Chairman Jermaine Figueira questioned why copies were not made and handed over, instead of the originals.
And while Accountant General within the Ministry of Finance, Jennifer Chapman, explained that original documents are usually handed over during an investigation, she did agree that copies should have been made.
“The normal modus operandi for investigations, they always ask for original documents. So that’s why they gave them the original documents. However, they should have copied those documents,” Chapman said.
The Amerindian Purpose Fund was established back in 2000 on the basis of the then Amerindian Act. These days, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government has been using another fund for developmental activities that would directly benefit the indigenous population.
The fund in question, the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF), was established back in 2014 to provide funding to support the socio-economic development of Amerindian communities and villages through the implementation of their Community Development Plans (CDPs).
CDPs were identified and developed by the Amerindian villages themselves, which proposed their priority projects to be financed under the GRIF ADF. President Ali had announced $800 million being allocated in the 2020 emergency budget for the fund.
At the time, APNU/AFC’s decision to vote against the Amerindian capital budget in parliament had provoked much criticism against them. Their vote against the budget included a vote against more than $200 million in grants to Amerindian communities.
It was only recently that over 30 tractors and trailers totalling some $446 million were handed over to toshaos of Amerindian villages across the country during a ceremony at the Hinterland Student Dormitory at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara (ECD).
It is understood that an additional 83 tractors, hydraulic carriage, and implements are earmarked to be handed over to more hinterland communities to support agriculture in these villages. (Published in the Guyana Times)