..says the independence of these constitutional agencies must be respected
The recent multi-million-dollar cuts by the Finance Ministry to the budget proposals put forward by several constitutional agencies is not going down well with the Parliamentary Opposition. The People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) party wants the autonomy of these agencies to be respected by the government.
According to PPP/C Parliamentarian Juan Edghill, the agencies submitted their plans based on the programs they have to conduct. He was adamant that these agencies, especially the Audit Office of Guyana, be allowed to carry out their Constitutional mandate without interference by the Executive.
“These agencies are protected. These are independent agencies from the Executive and they come up with their own program and they request their monies to fund these programs. If the Minister of Finance is going to cut budgets, it is going to interfere with the agencies, the audit office in particular which has to scrutinise Government.”
According to the 2018 annual budget proposals of Constitutional agencies which were tabled in Parliament last week, the Audit Office’s request of $844.4M was slashed to a proposal of $783.8M. In slashing the amount, it was noted that budget 2018’s submission did not fulfil certain requirements set out in a Budget Circular.
The need has been expressed for the audit office to be as strong as possible when it comes to its audit capacity. This is especially so as Guyana gets ready to enter oil production. In addition, Auditor General Deodat Sharma has already expressed intentions to audit Guyana’s environmental protection systems.
During the closing ceremony for a multi-year capacity building programme held recently, resident Representative of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Sophie Makonnen had highlighted this issue.
According to Makonnen, the independence and capacity of the Auditor General’s Office is one of the priority areas to be addressed by Guyana. She had noted that this was to ensure there is transparency and accountability with regards the oversight of the nation’s revenue and expenditure of public resources.
She had explained that the US$2M the IDB plugged in the capacity building programme for the Audit Office is a component of the wider assistance provided to Guyana with regards capacity building for the Public Sector.
The Audit Office of Guyana was reportedly plagued with a poor work environment, limited IT capacity and a huge backlog of statutory auditing among other issues prior to technical assistance from Inter-American Development Bank and the government.
But while the international donor agency has been fully supportive, the proposed budget for the Audit Office was slashed by the Government in the National Assembly during consideration of the 2017 Estimates of Expenditure, and the resultant consequences had included the AG grappling with not having adequate staff, or adequate funds to pay them.
The proposed estimate for the AG’s office in the last budget was $771.2 million for that Constitutional agency that is tasked with auditing ‘the state apparatus’, but Finance Minister Winston Jordan had decreased this sum to $754.9M.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had been vocal in its opposition to the budgetary cut. The party pointed out that the total budgetary allocation for constitutional agencies in 2016 was $8 billion, whereas it is only $6 billion in 2017.
The AG’s office has a wide remit, being responsible for auditing the public accounts of Guyana and presenting reports of those audits to the Minister of Finance, thence to the National Assembly. As laid out in Article 223 of the Constitution of Guyana, the Auditor General is authorised to audit all officers and authorities of the Government, including Commissions.
Other agencies on the chopping block for 2018 were the Parliament Office, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the Supreme Court of Judicature (request of $2.7B was reduced to $1.8B), the Director of Public Prosecutions chambers (request of $223.8M was reduced to $174.2M) and the Office of the Ombudsman.