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Auditor General Lorelly Pujadas

The Ministry of Community Development still has to account for some $16 million spent on Carifesta celebrations last year.

This was revealed by Auditor General Lorelly Pujadas as the unit appeared virtually before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for an examination into the report of the Auditor General on the Public Accounts yesterday.

Committee member Charisse Seepersad questioned why Carifesta 2019 cost the State some $28 million but there was only some $12 million accounted for.

“Twenty-eight million was allocated to Carifesta, they had bills on hand, when we checked, of $12 (million). So for the annual year of 2018/2019, for that particular year, it was an excess of $12 (million),” Pujadas responded

According to the Auditor General report, for Carifesta there were three laptop computers and four TAB E tablets recorded on the asset register. Similar items were also on the list of items returned to the ministry but the vote book showed no evidence of payment or record of these items being committed.

“There appeared to be a lack of control with regard to the issuing of invoice orders for payments under Carifesta,” the report stated.

Seepersad also asked about the missing Carifesta documents.

“We have not received the documentation from the ministries, a lot of the ministries are now returning to work and so, therefore, a lot of them would now have to go through the letters that we sent and would have to respond to us formally,” Pujadas said, noting the shutdown for COVID-19 may have caused the delay.

Seepersad pressed for more information on the unaccounted Carifesta spend but could get nothing without the missing documents.

According to the report, a sample of 12 invoice orders were examined and revealed that suppliers’ names were not entered into invoice orders and orders were duplicated and not cancelled.

Back in September, Guardian Media reported that the same ministry spent $4,000 on a cake celebrating a successful Carifesta, even while ministry workers claimed they had been facing problems to get basic office supplies. The cake was the main feature at the thank-you reception for volunteers hosted by the ministry. The ministry defended the cake purchase at the time.

At the PAC meeting yesterday, Pujadas agreed with committee member Bhoe Tewarie that the Auditor General’s office was left out of the essential workers’ list and as the report was due at the end of April, the office should have been allowed to operate. Pujadas said it seemed to be an oversight by the Ministry of Health, adding the shutdown of the ministerial offices for the COVID-19 pandemic may be the reason for the gaps of information in the Auditor General’s 2019 report.

Regarding the Ministry of National Security, Tewarie questioned why it used its extraordinary account to pay for recurrent expenditure. He read details which showed there were monthly payments amounting to $431,916.25 to three contractors for janitorial services and rental of vehicles which were charged against the extraordinary expenditure vote although the same amount and the same companies were paid over several years.

“I find this kind of extraordinary if you ask me,” Tewarie said.

Pujadas said her office wrote to National Security and also attempted to get a verbal response from the ministry.

“I think from what I understand, this is an item because they do not have a specific item for a specific type of activity. Over the years it has been an accepted practice for the use of this particular item of expenditure,” she said.

“However, I have advocated to them that if that is so, then they should seek to have a dialogue with the Ministry of Finance perhaps to establish a specific item number for this particular type of police activity.”

Member Taharqa Obika questioned whether any financial laws were broken to allow the Government to accrue a $41 billion overdraft of the exchequer account. Pujadas said that was not something she could answer as the Auditor General, but said the Central Bank controls the Government debt allowance.

“The overdraft is represented as a current liability of $41 billion. What you’re addressing is a question as to whether or not the sustainability of the Government to continue to maintain an exchequer deficit overdraft, that is not something that I could possibly answer,” she said.

However, Pujadas said the Central Bank is allowed to give the Government 20 per cent of estimated revenue as an overdraft facility.