‘Culture of intimidation’ led technical officers to falsely certify 2017 works

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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) continued its examination of the 2017 Auditor General Report on Monday, with past Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) officials appearing before the committee to testify why they signed off on documents without verifying that works were completed.

On Monday, when Region Two came before the PAC, then Regional Engineer Latchman Singh admitted that while works were falsely certified as completed, staff were intimidated into doing so.

He reported that in his case, when concerns were raised about what was happening, those in higher authority insisted that he follow their instructions. He recounted one time when he was pressured by his superiors to prepare final payments for a contractor and they would verify that the works were completed.

“At that time, the structure of the Works Department in the region was in terms of monitoring and evaluation, was the Senior Superintendent of Works and the two Regional Engineers, who would either do measurements or prepare payments. In this particular case, the Senior Superintendent of Works, who is present here, did the measurements and returned to give his findings.”

“He indicated to both of us that the works were yet to be completed, missing items from the bills of quantities. On that note, we communicated with the contractor that he needs to complete the works before we could execute payments,” Singh said.

Former Region 2 REO Rupert Hopkinson
Singh also testified that the Works Department received award letters from contractors for works that they did not even know had been tendered. According to Singh, he wrote to those in higher authority in the RDC complaining about what was happening.

In response, Singh said he was told to show the contractors the sites and to stop making excuses for not doing his job. According to the engineer, he was even threatened with sanctions if he did not follow the instructions.

Singh’s story did not elicit much sympathy from some members of the PAC, with member Ganesh Mahipaul making it clear the engineer was still liable for signing off on documents even if he was pressured into doing it.

“When we in the PAC accept such notions that are being put to us…the gentleman indicated about not knowing certain things, giving instructions by REO. And they had to do it and what’s not. The point I am making sir, is that when we seek to justify our answers by those statements…there is this perception as though they had to do it because they were singing for their supper.”

“We have to accept that they did the wrong thing by putting their signature there. Regardless of what is the circumstances… the wrong thing was done. Signature is not supposed to be put on a document if you cannot verify the work,” Mahipaul said.

However, PAC Member Gail Teixeira offered a defence of public servants who are prevailed upon by those higher up to commit wrongdoings. According to her, it would be wrong of the PAC to castigate and upbraid public servants, particularly when the engineer was able to show a letter that he brought the matter to the attention of higher authorities.

“There is something called reality. In these regions, people depend on their jobs. That is the reality. Unfortunately, people have been put in difficult situations. I am saying that whilst we uphold the issue of no public servant can be asked to do something unlawful, we cannot castigate the public servants who have done so. We can warn them that they should not do it again.”

In his contribution, Finance Secretary Sukrishnalall Pasha urged the PAC to go the route of forensic audits in such cases. He noted that it is difficult for a normal audit to pick up cases of management override.

Meanwhile, PAC Chairman Jermaine Figueira revealed that a letter was received on June 5, 2022, from the REO of Region Two, indicating that contact was made with former REO Rupert Hopkinson, who was in power back in 2017, but that he is currently out of the jurisdiction. Figueira noted that the PAC would be engaging the Commissioner of Police to ascertain Hopkinson’s whereabouts.