Govt has to accelerate modern accounting system -Winston Murray By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
August 13, 2002

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Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament, Winston Murray sees a need for the government to accelerate implementation of a modern system of financial accounting and to ensure that it is uniform, internally consistent and compatible.

Sharing some general comments with Stabroek News last week on the work of the PAC, Murray said that the government has made some attempts to modernise the system of financial accounting but noted that because of the lack of resources, a piecemeal approach was adopted which caused problems in compatibility.

"The question is to accelerate the rate of implementing a modern system in a comprehensive and uniform manner," Murray said.

Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran, recently highlighted the need for a modern system of financial accounting in the public sector to cure the system of some of the recurring problems highlighted in his reports on the government accounts. He said the present system of accountability was inherited from the colonial administration and is outdated, cumbersome and has lost its usefulness.

Goolsarran, who has been credited with returning public accountability to Guyana, says an outstanding issue he would like to work on is a modern system of financial management and accounting.

The Office of the Auditor General with the recent amendment to the Constitution falls under the oversight of the PAC and Murray noted that at the end of the day, the committee cannot cause things to be done and can only make recommendations.

However, he said that the committee is comprised of members who all have a strong desire to bring about significant change in the government accounting system. He added that members intend to make recommendations to bring about necessary changes and to use their collective will and influences to bring about improvements.

The PAC has concluded its examination of the 1999 accounts and is in the process of finalising its report on those accounts. Murray said that this finalisation will take place on October 2nd when the committee meets again upon parliament reconvening from its annual recess.

Murray indicated that the committee has been meeting for six hours per week and has a predetermined schedule as invitations are sent out to accounting officers to submit comments on various aspects of the Auditor General's report and depending on the responses these are timetabled into the PAC's schedule.

He said immediately upon finalising its report on the 1999 accounts, the PAC would start its deliberations on the 2000 report.

The only comment he would offer on the 1999 report is that there was a surprisingly large number of recurrences of problems highlighted in earlier reports. This, he said, was disappointing.

Asked about the PAC taking a more active role in ensuring that public funds are expended in a transparent and above board manner, Murray agreed that what the PAC does is a post-mortem, which while useful, does not allow for measures to be taken to prevent the problems from occurring in the first place.

He said now that the PAC has oversight responsibility for the Office of the Auditor General, it is of the mindset that those agencies with particular and recurring problems will need to be audited on an ongoing basis. He recognised that even this would be a band-aid approach and what is really needed is a fresh look at revamping the system of financial accountability, training accounting officers in their roles and to impart to them a greater awareness of the financial and audit regulations.

Murray also indicated that the PAC would be using the law to call upon accounting officers who are no longer within the jurisdiction or elsewhere to provide explanations for problems highlighted by the Auditor General's report.

He said that because the PAC is dealing with accounts in a post-dated manner, the accounting officers may have changed by the time answers are to be provided and are unable to give effective answers.

The PNC/R front-bencher also noted the passage of the National Procurement Bill as an integral part of measures by the government to bring transparency and accountability to the process of tendering. However, Murray said he did not see the need for this bill to have been unduly rushed through parliament without stakeholders being given an opportunity to comment on the final draft. He said he is not sure what the government has gained by its actions.

He also pointed out that the constitutional amendment caters for a National Procurement Commission which is supposed to oversee the whole tendering process to ensure greater accountability and transparency and to make laws and regulations to give effect to this.

However, he noted that the bill passed sees the minister having the authority to appoint members to the National Procurement Board to replace the central tender board. He cited the need not only to institute transparent measures but for these measures to be seen to be effected. He said the process so far smacks of the government seeking to put puppets in place to oversee the process.

President Bharrat Jagdeo has reportedly told the Building Forum, one of the associations concerned about the procurement legislation rushed through parliament, that the National Procurement Commission will have to look at the legislation passed and be allowed to recommend changes before it is assented to.

This is said to be as a direct result of concerns expressed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that the process to effect the new legislation was not seen as being transparent.