Auditor General's office to be strengthened

By Terrence Esseboom
Guyana Chronicle
July 5, 1999

THE Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) Friday night voted to strengthen the operational independence of the Auditor General's office "from the Executive" in the new Constitution.

In a lengthy, but stimulating debate on the issue, CRC Chairman, Mr Ralph Ramkarran and his team agreed to include that "Parliament should enact legislation to strengthen the operational independence of the Auditor General's office from the Executive," in their July 17 report.

"...we must make some pretty firm decisions on the Auditor General's office," CRC Secretary Mr Haslyn Parris said during Friday's session.

He said that such a move would be essential in order to restore public confidence in the ability of the Government to administer the country

's financial business in a principled manner.

Parris explained that allegations of fiscal improprieties levelled against Government officials goaded the three CARICOM `wise men' to include this guideline in the Menu of Measures contained in the Herdmanston Accord. That treaty was brokered between the minority People's National Congress (PNC) and the governing People's Progressive Party (PPP) at the height of the 1997 General Elections controversy.

Other guidelines applicable to the Auditor General's office will also be amended when the new Constitution is completed in time for the next General Elections according to the PNC/PPP compact.

Current Auditor General, Mr Anand Goolsarran, has been pushing for legislative reforms to make the department more self-governing. The CRC concurred.

Goolsarran sent a draft bill to the Government more than five years ago, and more recently, he forwarded proposals to the CRC for inclusion in its recommendation to the National Assembly.

In the latter, Goolsarran complained that under the existing regime, that agency can be deprived of human and financial resources by the Government.

Goolsarran's proposals to the CRC make a case for the right of that office to report directly to Parliament and to prepare an independent budget to be approved by the National Assembly.

His statement also asserted that all foreign projects are part of the public debt and therefore their operations should be scrutinised by the Auditor General's office.

The World Bank, in a recent statement, argued that private firms must audit the financial statements of the schemes they are funding here.

Some Commissioners questioned the motivation behind the Bank's insistence that the Government agency stay out of policing the schemes it is funding here through loans.

They agreed that there should be constitutional safeguards to ensure effective public administration.

Goolsarran and Finance Minister Mr Bharrat Jagdeo have disagreed publicly over the administration of the national Audit office.

In his intervention at Friday's meeting, Commissioner Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, representing the Alliance For Guyana (AFG) observed that the staff of the Auditor General's office should no longer be recruited by the Public Service Commission.

Roopnaraine reasoned that "this is where the real possibility of a Government wanting to strangle the Auditor General office, can do it."

However, Government representative on the 20-person team, Mr Reepu Daman Persaud, in opposing Roopnaraine's suggestion, maintained that hiring staff for the agency should remain with a constitutional and appellate body such as the Public Service Commission.

A number of "safety valves" are built into the system currently administered by that body to the benefit of Government employees, Persaud said.

During the CRC debate, Roopnaraine called too for the authority of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to be broadened to "improve financial propriety" in the Government sector.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples