Ex-corporation head: Lack of staff to blame for unfiled financial reports

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former chairman of the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation Henry Awong. – File photo

HENRY AWONG, former chairman of the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation, blamed a lack of staffing for the corporation’s failure to file annual financial statements.

He spoke to Newsday on May 28.

This paper reported on May 28 on Auditor General Jaywantie Ramdass’s findings in her report on the public accounts that 12 municipal corporations had not filed statements in recent years.

It appeared the only compliant ones were Arima Borough Council and Princes Town Regional Corporation.

The worst cases were Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo and Diego Martin Regional Corporation (now borough corporation), neither of which filed statements for 14 years, from 2009-2022.

Newsday was unable to contact Diego Martin chairman Akeliah Glasgow-Warner or past chairmen Susan Hong and Sigler Jack.

Awong said, “During the period of time the corporation had not been able to do some of the financial conciliation and so on, due to the lack of personnel from the administrative end to carry out that function.”

He said the financial officer was one of five chief officers in the corporation, whose role was “to get that information and do that kind of financial work.

“As we speak, right now, the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation is without a financial officer, and that has been happening from years back.

“Sometimes you get one, and then one or two years after, the person retires and they are gone.”

Awong recalled the corporation once hiring a financial officer who could not find the relevant information to do a financial report.

“He has to go in the vault, look through the vault. He can’t find it.

“We were without a financial officer for the past…probably the past four months or so.”

He recalled another past financial officer being on sick leave for quite a while.

“Then to get the information to do the financial report is going to be a challenge.

“So it is a whole long, tedious kind of process to find the information and to have the personnel to carry out the function.”

Awong said the corporation was now without an engineer.

“I am out in the field right now. Somebody has an issue with their drain, as someone built a wall over the drain.

“Those are matters for the engineer and survey officer to address, but we are out of a engineer for the past six months.

“The ministry (of Rural Development and Local Government) has to supply the funding and the personnel,” Awong said.

Newsday asked if big changes were needed in the system, such as the Government’s planned local government reform.

Awong replied, “Reform or no reform, the Municipal Corporation Act says you are supposed to have five chief officers –­ an engineer, a survey officer, a financial officer, a corporate secretary and a principal medical/health officer, and of course a CEO.”

He said most times most corporations lack several of these officers.

“They come for two years, they retire and then they (ministry) take a whole year before they give you back someone, and that kind of thing.”

Awong said despite cries of “Reform, reform!” corporations must nonetheless have requisite officers to carry out their functions.

Newsday was unable to contact Finance Minister Colm Imbert, nor Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Faris Al-Rawi.

The Municipal Corporations Act (section 113) says, “Every corporation shall keep its accounts in a form, having regard to its annual estimates, approved by the Minister of Finance.

“The accounts of every corporation shall be subject to audit by the Auditor General in all respects as if the corporation were a department of the Public Service.”

The Exchequer and Audit Act (section 10) says the Auditor General is entitled “to require any department concerned to furnish him from time to time or at regular periods with accounts of the transactions of such department up to such date as he may specify.”