Cabinet’s team can’t continue Auditor General probe

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass – Jeff K. Mayers

The Court of Appeal has stopped the investigation of the Auditor General by a team handpicked by the government.

On June 21, Justices of Appeal Mark Mohammed, Peter Rajkumar and James Aboud unanimously upheld Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass’s appeal of the High Court’s refusal to permit her to challenge the lawfulness of the decision to appoint the team, led by retired judge David Harris.

The judges held Justice Westmin James erred in refusing Ramdass leave to pursue her judicial review claim on June 3.

Ramdass was granted leave and her lawsuit will be heard by another judge in the High Court.

A written ruling is expected to be delivered next week.

The Appeal Court’s ruling effectively stops the team from any investigation involving the Auditor General over the 2023 national accounts until her lawsuit goes to trial.

However, the Harris team can still pursue aspects of the probe on the $2.6 billion understatement in the Auditor General’s report on the 2023 public accounts that do not involve Ramdass and her office.

Harris’s team was expected to report to Finance Minister Colm Imbert by July 7.

Ramdass sued the Finance Minister and the Cabinet after Imbert refused her request to stop the investigation.

The dispute between the Auditor General and the Government arose in April after the ministry sought to deliver amended public accounts to explain and rectify the error.

Ramdass initially refused to accept it, as she said she needed legal advice on whether she could accept them after the statutory deadline for submission.

She eventually accepted the records and dispatched audit staff to verify them.

She then submitted her original annual report. which was based on the original records, to Parliament.

Ramdass said her audit team was unable to reconcile the amended records based on documents it audited. She also contended the amended records appeared to be backdated to the original statutory deadline date in January.

The original report was laid on May 24 in the Parliament, which agreed to an extension for a special report on the 2023 public accounts to be completed and submitted by August 31.

On May 7, the Finance Minister announced the Harris team in a press release. The team also includes David Benjamin, a former audit director at the Auditor General’s Department, and specialists in information technology from Norway, since an error in the revenue data was attributed to an electronic cheque-clearing system introduced by the Central Bank.