Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of the Presidency (MOTP), Abena Moore, was on Monday hauled over the proverbial coals, when she appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament, to answer to queries raised by the Auditor General’s Office.
The resulting interrogation revealed that tens of millions of dollars were spent in breach of procurement rules or downright flagrant violations of the nation’s financial laws by the MOTP.
A frazzled sounding Moore was at pains to provide answers over the several breaches that were highlighted and before wrapping up told the Committee that the expenditures for which she is unable to provide satisfactory answers were all overseen by embattled former Permanent Secretary, Omar Shariff.
Shariff was fired as Permanent Secretary after being arrested in connection with investigations by the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) over the alleged theft of billions at MOTP.
Holding the post of Chairperson of the Committee during the interrogation of the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary was former Junior Finance Minister, Bishop Juan Edghill who was forced to upbraid Moore, saying accounting officers and professional staffers at government ministries must not buckle to the pressure of policy makers, “and politicians that cause us to bend the rules.”
Moore was at the time being grilled over the bizarre circumstances surrounding the purchase of a multi-million dollar luxury vehicle for Prime Minister (PM), Moses Nagamootoo.
The Public Accounts Committee heard that not only was the vehicle delivered almost one year late but 100% of the $13M total was actually paid up front with two cheques using monies that had been allocated for the previous year.
The explanations to the Committee caused Edghill to blurt out “everything is wrong about this transaction and it falls on the lap of the Accounting Officer (Permanent Secretary Moore).”
He adopted the position, while the purchase of the vehicle is for the Prime Minster, it cannot be a case where the rules of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) are flouted.
The Permanent Secretary indicated to the Committee that the money was allocated in 2015 for the Purchase of the vehicle and that the cheques had been cut with the expectation the vehicle would be delivered in a timely manner.
This did not obtain, and instead two cheques were processed totaling $13M and paid to Beharry Automative Sales Limited.
Among the excuses offered for the late delivery was a fire at the Toyota Factory in Japan, the installation of a cooler and other accessories for the vehicle.
As it relates to the payment, one of the Ministry’s technical officers attempted to pass off the fact that the two cheques being cut and paid simultaneously up front to Beharry Auto sales was in fact a mistake—a statement quickly objected to by Bishop Edghill, who sought to outline the process and why the answer provided did not make sense.
It was revealed too, the Ministry did not seek any request from the Finance Secretary, in order to have the money held over for the next year.
Under that line item for vehicles for the Prime Minister a total of three purchases were made from Beharry Automative Sales Limited totaling $22M—all payments were made 100 per cent up front.
According to Bishop Edghill, the 100 per cent payment upfront for vehicles to be delivered months later is tantamount to an involuntary loan.
Government came under further fire over its spending practices when it was found that in 2015, under the pretext of unavoidable, urgent and unforeseen circumstances, the Ministry of the Presidency procured some $20M in Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras.
To date the equipment has not been delivered and according to Permanent Secretary Moore, the US Based (California) company has since gone bankrupt.
She told the Committee, “I engaged the Minister of State (Joseph Harmon) on this matter; he is speaking with the Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams.”
She said alternatively, the Ministry has been engaging other US based stakeholders in the contract—Shawn Birkett and Shawn Nolan—to no avail.
According to the Moore, the Ministry has also been looking to engage the American Embassy, “to try to see what help we can get.”
The Committee heard that there was no bond securing the transaction and that the now bankrupt company was in fact paid in full, upfront, as was the case with the vehicles for the Prime Minister.
By this time the Committee’s substantive chairman, Irfaan Ali had returned to take charge of the proceedings and learnt that the Ministry of the Presidency is currently unable to recover over payments it had made to a contractor for works undertaken at the Castellani House.
Moore said while the contractor was hauled in, he related that he is not in a position to make the repayments since he has not been getting work.
According to the Permanent Secretary, “I have written to him recently to start paying or I will hand the matter over to Guyana Police Force.”
Other government agencies engaging the attention of the Public Accounts Committee at Monday’s meeting included Public Service Management, the Ministry of Business and Public Telecommunications among others.