Fraud uncovered at Ministry of Housing & Water
...third in Government departments in two weeks By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
December 29, 2001

`Much of my concern...has been in attempting to stem the haemorrhage of public funds that are being stolen brazenly and outrageously, day in and day out by a combination of thieves, crooks and wicked public servants and others up and down the hierarchy in the system' - Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head, Presidential Secretariat

THE Government yesterday, for the second time in two weeks, reiterated its outrage at the financial fraud and corruption which continue to be uncovered at Government agencies and departments - the latest at the Ministry of Housing and Water.

It last week expressed outrage at fraud involving millions of dollars at two other state 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 has been charged and sources confirmed that other employees allegedly involved have been sent on leave.

Hosting the final weekly post-Cabinet news conference for the year, Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon yesterday reported that the incidence and prevalence of corrupt and fraudulent practices remain high in the public sector.

He said Cabinet was advised yesterday "about another example of the level of corrupt financial practices - this time in the procurement sector where a supervisor attached to the Ministry of Housing and Water - Projects was `nabbed' in a bribe-taking attempt".

According to Luncheon, the official had attempted to procure a bribe from a contractor in the guise of providing him with work under a project.

He said he has been advised that this type of financial fraud is "not uncommon" as project functionaries impose on contractors the payment of certain sums of money to secure contracts.

"In this instance, the matter came to the attention of the administration and it was properly pursued and the individual was indeed found in receipt of marked bills and on that basis has been brought before the Court of law," he said.

"Much of my concern, much of my involvement, has been in attempting to stem the haemorrhage of public funds that are being stolen brazenly and outrageously, day in and day out by a combination of thieves, crooks and wicked public servants and others up and down the hierarchy in the system," Luncheon said.

According to him, stringent measures will have to be enforced and strong disciplinary action taken for "miscreants who seem to have some confusion about what is theirs and what is not theirs".

Also responding to a question of widespread allegations of corruption at the Deeds Registry, Luncheon said he has been advised that "perhaps successive administrations have failed to address the issues in the Deeds Registry and to root out the basis for the corrupt and the unlawful practices".

It is quite clear that some contention of literally `the cat looking at the milk' is evident in some professions including the judiciary and justice administration, he said.

In this regard, he asserted that the Office of the President might contemplate unveiling very innovative approaches soon, one of which is to "perhaps see some bipartisan or some ex-professional body or bodies being tasked with the responsibility for doing such investigations".

"I must admit that we are a nation of investigators, but we never seem to get to the end of any of these investigations and this, probably, is one area where much attention will be placed in the year 2002 and beyond."

"So it may very well be that the Office of the President might foster this new approach into doing investigations into justice administration," he said.

"...but indeed, to put it mildly, the activities, the work that has been done or is being done at the Deeds Registry is extremely unsavoury (and) many of our worst cases of fraud - complicated and bareface fraud - originated in the Deeds Registry," Luncheon said.

"There seem to be some esteemed practitioners of the art that somehow can influence the way in which the Deeds Registry operates."

Luncheon noted too that the Office of the President has already convened one "crisis meeting" involving the department and "we plan to continue targetting specific aspects of the operations of the Deeds Registry".

"We have done the same thing in the Supreme Courts Registry and I am advised that we should soon be moving into other agencies for these crisis meetings to focus in on corrupt practices and individuals associated with corrupt practices...and we are using these crisis meetings to bring together the likes of the Auditor General, the Accountant General and other persons and focus in on these corrupt practices and move to either lessen or totally eradicate them.

"It might be a surprise, it might not be a surprise, that the Supreme Court Registry is an extremely important source of Government's revenue (and) one that we continue to guard rather zealously," Luncheon pointed out.

At last week's post-Cabinet news briefing, he had noted that successive annual reports from the Public Accounts Committee alluded to these persistent practices of financial corruption in Government agencies, departments and ministries.

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

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

The Chronicle understands that some officers from the Fisheries Department have been "sent on leave" as the investigations continue. It is also understood that the probe of this department began sometime around June-July this year.

Mr. 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 last week Tuesday.

Ramdass, 46, of Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara pleaded not guilty to a charge of 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 fraud was detected when an internal audit was done. 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.