Audit of foreign missions in backlog due to COVID-19 – AG

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The Auditor General’s audit of foreign missions, which receive millions annually in order to carry out Guyana’s foreign policy objectives, is currently in a backlog due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was revealed during a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, where Auditor General Deodat Sharma was asked by PAC member and Governance Minister, Gail Teixeira for the status of the audits of foreign missions.

According to him, these audits are usually carried out with auditors travelling to various foreign missions to audit their books. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had caused countries including Guyana to lock down their airports, put a stop to much of that. According to Sharma, the backlog is expected to be cleared when the pandemic allows travel.

“Except for COVID, we normally go once a year to the larger missions and sometimes every two years to the smaller missions. But we were unable to go there last year because of the COVID,” Sharma said.

“We hope as soon as that settles down, we can go back to auditing some of these missions. But 2019, we were there, the Auditor General further explained to the members of the PAC.

It was further explained that revenue from foreign missions is usually put in a bank account as an intermediary solution and at the end of every month, reconciled and transferred to the Consolidated Fund.

According to the AG, however, there have been accountability issues at the Foreign Affairs Ministry when it comes to revenue and refunds to the Consolidated Fund. This had led to a new system being set up for most of these transfers.

“Previously, we use to have issues with these refunds, because you had to do it with a money order, etc. But we had sat down with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and were able to work a system out where immediately, the money comes straight into the Consolidated Fund.”

“We still have to go through [some] of the intermediary accounts, but you don’t have to use money orders where the money orders are stale-dated. Everything comes straight into the Consolidated Fund and is being reconciled,” Sharma told the PAC.

One of the findings of the 2016 report is that $220 million from 16 overseas missions were paid over late to the Consolidated Fund. As of 2019, those breaches to the Fiscal Management Act continued. However, the Ministry has since implemented home-based accounting staff at these overseas missions to assist with accounting for the refunds.

Other discrepancies from the report were 26 advances totalling $11.5 million which were at the time not repaid to the Ministry. As of 2019, 10 advances totalling US$14,310 ($2.994 million) remained outstanding, while 16 advances were cleared.

Meanwhile, the Ministry also had issues with logbooks for nine of fifteen serviceable vehicles not being presented, while some of the logbooks were not even properly written up. Additionally, there were issues with 115 employees being employed between 2015 and 2016, but for which there was no employment contract.