Finance and the Economy Minister, Larry Howai is assuring that steps are being taken to address issues raised in the report of the Auditor General on the Public Accounts of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago for the Financial Year 2012.
Even as he expressed concern over the findings of the Auditor General’s Report and the fact that it reflects very little improvement over prior years, the Minister said he has been working with the Comptroller of Accounts on the matter and she has been actively pursuing the correction of the errors and irregularities identified with the various Ministries.
Howai said: “Notwithstanding the comments of the Auditor General in the Report one must bear in mind that between the time of completion of the Report, and its publication, a number of verifications, explanations and justifications are provided by the Permanent Secretaries and Heads of various Ministries and Departments. These are not included in the Report as in many instances the explanations are received after the Report is completed”
“This is the Government structure within which the Officers work; the Permanent Secretaries are the Accounting Officers and are responsible for all expenditure and accounting of funds, but they too are constrained by the bureaucracy, the size and complexity of which slows the speed of response. The Auditor General, in compiling the report, requests an accounting for and explanations of all expenditure, and in some cases, these submissions are made after the deadline given by the Auditor General.
He also stated that it was important to emphasize that the explanations which have come in from the various Ministries so far show that the expenditures highlighted in the media report were budgeted for and where increases were reported these were in keeping with the Budget.
“What created some of the appearance of large increases and in some instances of over expenditure in some Ministries and what may have created some of the challenges identified by the Auditor General was the fact that there was a major realignment of Ministries in the last quarter which resulted in budgets being transferred as some Departments were transferred to new Ministries and there was insufficient time to make all the adjustments. This then gave the mistaken impression that expenses had ballooned when in truth and in fact, it simply represented a transfer of an entire department or several state enterprises to a new Ministry.”
He went on to say that “If we look at some areas highlighted such as the absence of signed contracts and the absence of signed lease agreements, these issues must at all times be taken in the context of the delays in preparing and completing contracts and agreements, particularly where several Ministries or Departments must collaborate in order to finalize these agreements. So far, in all of the instances we have checked, the leases were properly approved, Howai added.
The Minister, however, advised: “This is not to excuse the problems identified and notwithstanding these explanations, we recognise that there are weaknesses in the system and the archaic processes which currently exist can open the Government to abuse. Our work with the Comptroller in identifying the short term measures that can be implemented to address the problems will therefore continue, and we are also working towards a longer term solution for the overall revamping of the system. While this process could take some time, the most important thing is that solutions are being implemented.”
Courtesy the Ministry of Finance and the Economy gov.tt