Fraud uncovered at government agencies By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
December 20, 2001

THE Government yesterday expressed outrage at the financial fraud and corrupt practices involving millions of dollars uncovered at two government agencies - the Wildlife Unit of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock.

At least one person from the two departments has so far been charged and sources confirmed that other employees, alleged to have been involved in the corrupt financial practices, have been sent on leave.

Police are continuing investigations.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, at a post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the President yesterday, reiterated the administration's outrage at the level of financial fraud and corruption which continues to be uncovered at Government ministries, agencies and the Regional Administrative Departments.

He said the incidence and prevalence of corrupt and fraudulent practices remain high in the public sector.

Successive annual reports from the Public Accounts Committee have alluded to these persistent practices, he said.

"Just recently, other cases of fraud involving millions of dollars have been uncovered in the Wild Life Unit, managed by the EPA and in the Fisheries Department under the Ministry of Fisheries, Other Crops and Livestock," Luncheon told reporters.

These reports, he said, have been followed by incisive action by the administration that involved a move for Police intervention, charges being laid and officers facing disciplinary action.

"What the administration plans to do, with regards to such practices, is to move for much more prompt intervention, including dismissals for those errant employees."

This newspaper understands that some officers from the Fisheries Department have been "sent on leave" as the investigations continue. It is also understood that the department had been under probe from June-July of this year.

Contacted yesterday, a senior official from the Wildlife Unit noted that the matter is in the court and an employee has been charged.

Shabiraj Ramdass, a former employee of the Office of the President attached to the Wildlife Unit of the EPA at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara, was remanded to prison by acting Chief Magistrate, Juliet Holder-Allen, when he appeared before her on Tuesday.

Ramdass, 46, of Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara, who pleaded not guilty, is charged with falsification of accounts and larceny by a public officer.

He is alleged to have made or concurred in making, with intent to defraud, a false entry on a given receipt, purporting to show that he received the sum of $820,967 from M&M Lall instead of $1,193,638.

This allegedly occurred on November 6 this year while he was employed by the Wildlife Unit as a clerk.

The alleged fraud was said to have been detected during an internal audit. Ramdass was questioned about the offence, but denied any fraudulent activity.

The matter was reported to the Police and following investigations, he was subsequently arrested and charged. The matter is scheduled to come up in court tomorrow.

Luncheon also noted that officers involved in fraud will face disciplinary action and pointed out that the Government plans to move for more prompt intervention including the dismissal of officers who are culpable for financial malpractices.

He expects this pro-activity would lead to fewer incidents and lower prevalence of financial corruption.

Luncheon, however, noted that to achieve this, a number of interventions will be optimised by the Government "to bring to bear simultaneously the accounting system, the skills and experience of those who are involved in the financial system in Government agencies and the public sector" to ensure that more attention is dedicated to the tender and procurement process.

He said this may even involve an extended role of state agencies in monitoring and evaluating the financial practices.

He also pointed out that many such bodies are in place, but they are either not performing optimally or need additional features built in to create an environment in which they can act in a timely manner to reduce the incidence of fraud.