Kamla: UNC will go to court over delayed Auditor General’s report

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Political leader of the UNc Kamla Persad Bissessar arrives at the UNC’s 35th anniversary celebration at the party’s headquarters in Chaguanas on Sunday. – Lincoln holder

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar intends to challenge the government’s motion to extend the time for the Auditor General report to be completed and laid in Parliament which was passed by a simple majority on Friday in the House of Representatives.

Speaking at the United National Congress (UNC) 35th-anniversary celebration at its Chaguanas headquarters on Sunday, Persad-Bissessar slammed the government for the move.

She said while the completed report was on the table in the Parliament, Finance Minister Imbert did not lay it when prompted by the Speaker of the House at the start of the sitting but waited until the end of the private members’ sitting to move a motion to extend the timeframe.

“So first, they violated our Constitution by refusing to lay the document which is prepared. It has also violated the Constitution by extending the time,” she said.

“I serve notice today, Mr Imbert and the Government of TT we will take you to the courthouse to get that report laid in the Parliament.”

In piloting the motion on Friday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the ministry accidentally submitted revenue for the last fiscal year which was undervalued by $2.6 billion owing to issues in processing tax refunds. He said the error was discovered sometime after January 31 when the accounts had already been submitted to the Auditor General.

He said the Auditor General was alerted to the ministry’s mistake in March, but initially declined to accept the updated and corrected accounts. However, on April 16 she accepted the updated accounts.

While she received it, Imbert said the Auditor General submitted her report without the updated figures. This, he said, is why the extension is needed.

During her contribution to the motion, Persad-Bissessar accused the government of threatening the Auditor General with legal action to pressure her into accepting the updated revenue statement after she initially refused.

“I am being told that the Auditor General was being pressured to accept these accounts. I am also being told that the Auditor General was sent a pre-action protocol letter…that the Auditor General must accept these accounts.

“I’m further being told that after the pre-action letter, the Auditor General did consider the supposedly corrected numbers, supposedly, and still, she couldn’t find any evidence of this $3 billion in revenue,” she said.

She described the move as another example of the “galloping dictatorship being used by this government in attacking independent institutions from time to time.”

During the debate, Attorney General Reginald Armour later confirmed that a pre-action protocol letter was sent to the Auditor General.

He said it was in response to senior Treasury officials being barred from entering the Office of the Auditor General when they attempted to deliver the updated figures earlier in April. This, he said, was after several other unsuccessful attempts.

He said that the Auditor General was obligated to accept the correct information and use it to paint an accurate picture of the country’s finances.

Armour said, “There was and is nothing untoward…about the treasury notifying the Auditor General of errors in their accounts and providing her with information which would have allowed corrections to be made.”

He argued the Auditor General was duty-bound to get accurate information for her report. He said if the discrepancy was detected on her own she is required to obtain the factual figures. He said it was no different when the error was brought to her attention.

While, the motion was passed in the Parliament, Persad-Bissessar on Sunday blamed its success on dissenting MPs from her party who had left the sitting, allowing for the government MPs to hold the majority. Had they not left, she said, there is a possibility the motion could have been blocked as there were only 19 government MPs present at the time.