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By Lisa Hamilton
Scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday revealed that head officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went against the Financial Management and Accountability (FMA) Act in 2016 when $33.275M, as part of a multi-year project, was rolled over to the next year for continued use instead of reinjected into the Consolidated Fund.
According to the Auditor General’s (AGs) 2016 report on the EPA, the sum of $47M was released to the EPA for provision for design and construction of a building to accommodate additional staff; the purchase of a global positioning systems, noise meter, radiation monitoring system, cameras, environmental monitor, chairs, water dispenser, soil analyzer, air conditioning units and photocopier.
However, AG’s report found that, according to the Appropriation Account, the full amount of $47M was expended but the records of the Agency revealed that amounts totaling only $13.725M were expended.
The difference of $33.275M was retained by the Agency, resulting in the Appropriation Account being overstated by this amount. In contrary, according to the FMA Act, while rollover is allowed, retention is not. The amount unspent in 2016 should have been refunded to the Consolidated Fund and late re-budgeted in the 2017 budget for continued use.
The EPA falls under the Ministry of Natural Resources, the latter which is under the purview of the then Ministry of the Presidency (MOTP) current Office of the President (OTP).
In response to the queries from Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira as to why the rollover was necessary, Head of EPA (ag), Sharifa Razack said: “It was done because it was a multi-year project and there were delays in the budget for the preceding year being passed and hence the Agency continued to implement the project as it was a multi-year project.”
Furthermore, Permanent Secretary (PS) of the then OTP, Abena Moore – who headed the team of officials present — explained that approval was granted by the Financial Secretary (FS) for the rollover of the sum. The then Head (ag) of the EPA, Khemraj Parsram, made the request through Moore who later requested the rollover from the FS. She said that this is the way it is normally done.
However, after much discussion among the members, PAC Chair, David Patterson concluded: “While the Finance Secretary has authority to roll over a project, that authority does not extend to keeping funds in your possession.”
Meanwhile, the Audit Office has recommended that the Head of Budget Agency institute measures to ensure full compliance with Section 43 of the FMA Act, which required unexpended balances to be refunded to the Consolidated Fund at the end of each fiscal year.
The PAC’s scrutiny also found that it was the EPA’s alteration of the project after residents stated that they were affected by its design contributed to delays in construction, hence the need for a rollover. Meanwhile, additional services were conducted by sub-contractors such as the installation of elevator, plumbing, electrical and more which caused further delay.
Added to this, as the Audit Office did, the PAC also recommended that the Ministry make special effort to have its outstanding audited reports laid in the National Assembly.