During the course of the 10th Public Accounts Committee (PAC) sitting on the 5th November 2012, Ms. Gail Teixeira complained about the inclusion of the name of the wife of Dr. Ashni Singh in a letter sent by the PAC Chairman to the oversight bodies for Chartered Accountants. The letter requested guidance from the Guyana, Caribbean and international institutes regarding their codes of ethics and possible conflict of interest arising from the appointment of Mrs. Gitanjali Singh to the post of Director in the Audit Office given that her husband is the Minister of Finance. The material she would be required to audit directly or through colleagues pertain to agencies for which her husband has policy responsibility.
In the view of much of Guyana a strong conflict of interest would be involved in Mrs. Singh operating at such a senior level in auditing the accounts of bodies for which her husband has Ministerial and policy responsibility. Apparently, the PPP/C did not want the source of the conflict mentioned in the letter and they also claimed that there were inaccuracies in the letter.
It is clear, however, that without the specific names being provided to the oversight bodies, they are unlikely to be in a position to offer advice on this very special and controversial case at a time when the Government is embroiled in accusations about corruption and there are calls for special audits for entities such as NICIL and AHL. These entities have failed to account for billions of dollars which have been in their keeping.
Mrs. Singh’s promotion to the de facto number two position in the Office of the Auditor General was sought by the acting Auditor General, Mr. Deodat Sharma, and was facilitated by on the unexpected and temporary PPP/C majority on the body resulting from the sudden and unannounced absence of the AFC representative, Mr. Trevor Williams. The decisions of the PAC are by tradition based on a consensus among the parties especially in the face of politically sensitive matters such as appointments where the parties need to have confidence in the impartiality and professionalism of the officers. After the refusal of the PPP/C to abide by this principle, the PAC Chairman suggested, and the PAC members agreed, that he would write to the oversight bodies to obtain guidance.
The letter sent by the Chairman was criticized by Ms. Teixeira at the meeting of the 5th November. She complained that the PPP/C representatives had not had an input to the letter and more importantly that it was wrong to have mentioned the name of Mrs. Singh and to have linked her to the Ministry of Finance.
Ms. Gail Teixiera announced that the PPP/C has written directly to the institutes. It seems that the PPP/C has responded to what they see as an unwanted and embarrassing public exposure by writing directly to the bodies in a bid to intimidate them into dropping any enquiry or offering any guidance. The PAC has not been given a copy of the PPP/C’s letter. This deplorable action will be a test of the robustness of the oversight of the bodies and of their independence.
In the interim, the Committee is also in the throes of dealing with the decision-making of the PAC. First, a letter was sent to the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee on October 25th drawing to its attention the fact that Standing Orders 48(2), 80(5), 102(2) which refer to the voting powers of the Chairmen of Standing and Select Committees are conflicting. The Committee is expected to give guidance on the matter although the PPP/C which has written separately argues that the rules are clear and that the Chairman cannot vote. A great deal of controversy surrounds the vote itself and the validity of the advice provided to the Chair. It will be recalled that the Chair’s attempt to vote was challenged and when asked, the Clerk who has the responsibility for advising on such matters referred to the meeting to the Standing Order which pertained to the Select Committee and the Standing Order which say that in the absence of a specific Standing Order the House/meetings have to abide by the procedures adopted by the plenary of the assembly. It will be recalled that at the 22nd October session of the House, the AFC motion on ‘Steps to be undertaken to establish the independence & authority of the National Assembly’, was lost when the votes for and against were equal. The Speaker had no vote.
The National Assembly can be expected to look at the matter in a few weeks time when a full report of the PAC deliberations as well as the views of the Standing Order committee should be considered. In the interim the staff members have been appointed by the AG and who has since been confirmed by the PPP regime. Ms. Teixeira contended in response to a question to the AG that that the decision on appointments cannot be reversed. This view is disputed by many informed observers.
APNU continues to view with concern and to resist attempts by the PPP/C regime to make sweetheart appointments and where they are not sure of the loyalty or are concerned that officers might be too independent, to use the device of having them acting interminably or kept to short contracts. This is a means of keeping them line. The PPP/C is currently on a drive to protect themselves from investigation of fraudulent behaviour and possible prosecution for corruption. Guyana is currently ranked as the most corrupt regime in the Caribbean and the second most corrupt in the entire Latin America and Caribbean region.