Auditor General hits AG, Imbert: ‘Attack on my integrity’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass. –

AUDITOR General Jaiwantie Ramdass believes that she is under political attack with respect to her conduct in the submission of a report to Parliament on the public financial statements for 2023.

This belief was expressed in a signed pre-action protocol letter dated April 29, from Freedom Law Chambers to Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC.

The letter was signed by attorney Aasha Ramlal.

She said, “Our client (Ramdass) was concerned because she had been provided with two sets of public accounts from the Ministry of Finance, one of which was backdated and contained a significantly higher statement of revenue figure. The original public accounts were dated and submitted on January 31, 2024 and showed a statement of revenue figure of $61,890,373,020.22. The amended public accounts were submitted on April 15h 2024 (almost two months after the statutory deadline of January 31, 2024) and showed a different, higher statement of revenue figure of $64,488,530,781.94. The latter statement was deliberately backdated so that it would appear as if it was prepared and submitted on January 31st 2024. More importantly, it did not in fact show the original revenue figure and the fact it was amended.”

She added that Ramdass sought legal advice from Armour as to whether she was required to consider the amended section in light of Sections 24 and 25 of the Exchequer and Audit Act which give the Auditor General more time to submit a report on the public financial statements.

On April 26, Finance Minister Colm Imbert succeeded in having a motion passed in the House of Representatives to extend the time to submit the public accounts to the Auditor General and the time for the Auditor General to submit a report on the accounts to Parliament under Sections 24 (1) and 25 (1) of the Act respectively.

The motion was passed by a vote of 19 to 14.

On April 29, the Senate passed the same motion by a 23 to 6 vote.

Imbert said the reason for the motion was because his ministry’s officials had detected a variance and understatement of approximately $2.6 billion in the 2023 public financial statements.

He added on this basis, it was necessary for Auditor General to be given additional time to receive the amended financial statements and prepare a report for submission to Parliament.

Ramlal claimed Imbert refused to lay in the House, a report on the 2023 public financial statements which the Auditor General had submitted to the Parliament.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. – Angelo Marcelle

She also claimed that in the debate on the motion in the House, Armour and Imbert launched scathing attacks on Ramdass’ character and integrity.

“The Auditor General sees this as a political attack on the independence and integrity of her office because it concerns the performance of her constitutional and statutory duties. It was also an attempt to vilify and assassinate her personal and professional reputation.”

Ramlal said, “The Auditor General is an independent office under the Constitution that was deliberately insulated from political interference, influence and control.”

The Auditor General, she continued, wants to ensure that the independence and integrity of the office is not compromised by any unwarranted and unjustified political attacks.

Ramlal said, “As an independent office holder under the Constitution, the Auditor General sits on par with the office of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), the Ombudsman and the Service Commissions which are all similarly protected from political influence and control.”

In a pre-action protocol letter to Imbert on April 28, Ramlal claimed that during the sitting of the House on April 26, Imbert and Armour gave the impression that the Auditor General breached her constitutional duties by failing to take into account the $2.6 billion understatement in the 2023 public financial statements.

In this letter, Ramlal also said it was wrong for Imbert and Armour to claim that in preparing her report for submission to Parliament, the Auditor General did not examine and audit the amended accounts submitted by the Finance Ministry.

She called on Imbert to retract statements he made in the House and set the record straight.

Should that not happen, Ramlal told Imbert, “Our client would be forced to take appropriate measures to vindicate her professional integrity and reputation, and protect the independence of the office from the tentacles of political interference.”

In statement in the Senate on April 30, Imbert denied claims by Ramdass in the April 28 letter over an alleged backdating of accounts.

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC. – JEFF K MAYERS

Imbert clarified for the record that the national accounts to be audited are prepared, declared, certified and submitted by senior Finance Ministry officials. These are the permanent secretary and are cosigned by the controller of accounts and the treasury director.

“The Minister of Finance is not involved in this exercise,” he said

Imbert denied the Auditor General’s claim that the updated accounts were backdated after he said he was shown a copy of them by ministry officials.

“I was subsequently sent a copy of the statement of declaration and certification submitted by ministry officials to the Auditor General with the amended public accounts on April 16, 2024. From what has been shown to me, this statement of declaration and certification of the amended public accounts is dated April 16, 2024, and not January 31, 2024, as falsely alleged in the letter from Freedom Law Chambers. I have seen on that declaration, the April 16 one, the signatures of the permanent secretary in the MOF, the controller of accounts and the treasury director and the date April 16, 2024, written in their own hands,” he said.

Given this revelation, Imbert said the matter now requires an independent investigation followed by the appropriate consequences.

“If the document shown to me is authentic and the true date on the statement of declaration and certification of the amended public accounts for the financial year 2023 submitted by the ministry officials is in fact April 16, 2024, and not January 31, 2024, then a blatant untruth has been put into the public domain.

“This matter now requires a full independent investigation, the findings of which would be reported to the Public Service Commission and any other relevant office holder for their review and whatever action these independent institutions deem appropriate.”