Diplomat dies owing State millions, Govt urged to recover monies

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Odeen Ishmael

Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came up before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today, where they were questioned over a number of discrepancies uncovered in the Auditor General’s 2016 report.

One of those discrepancies were 26 advances totaling $11.5 million which were never paid back to the Ministry.

As of 2019, 10 advances totaling US$14,310 remained outstanding, while 16 advances were cleared.

It was explained that the outstanding advances were incurred by one diplomat, Guyana’s former Ambassador to Kuwait Odeen Ishmael, who passed away in 2019.

However, it was explained that while the advances were associated with travel, there is difficulty retrieving supporting documents and receipts.

As a consequence, Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Minister Elizabeth Harper revealed that the Ministry is considering writing off the remainder.

However, PAC member Juan Edghill objected, noting that there are ways of recovering monies from a deceased public servant who died owing the State.

“If someone is deceased, their estate is still available. Especially if that person was on a pensionable establishment. And there is a way in which that could be recovered instead of writing it off,” Edghill said.

“Because the GRA would have to provide a statement of indebtness in terms of taxation. So before you go to writing off, there is a way to recover monies owed by a public servant even after their demise,” he added.

Harper explained that they are seeking guidance from the Ministry of Finance on the way forward with recovering the outstanding monies. The Ministry officials explained that Ishmael was not on the pensionable establishment but rather, was on contract and receiving gratuity.

Moving forward, they noted that a system has been implemented whereby diplomats must account for all advances within seven days of their return, while diplomats who do not clear their outstanding balances will have the monies deducted from their monthly salary.

Dr. Odeen Ishmael served as Guyana’s Ambassador to the United States from 1993 to 2003, as well as Ambassador to Venezuela from 2003 to 2011. He retired in 2014 after serving as Ambassador to Kuwait. He died in January 2019.