Moonilal: PNM will collapse economy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Roodal Moonilal. – File photo

OROPOUCHE East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal is warning that Government could cause the economy to collapse by not allowing the Auditor General’s report on the 2023 public financial statements to be laid on the floor of Parliament.

He claimed the reason Government does not want this report to be presented in Parliament in this manner was because it wanted to keep certain expenditures, outlined in the report, secret from the population.

In a signed letter dated April 24 to the permanent secretary in the Finance Ministry, Auditor-General Jaiwantie Ramdass said she submitted copies of her report on the 2023 public accounts to the ministry, Speaker of the House of Representatives Bridgid Annisette-George and Senate President Nigel de Freitas.

In a previous signed letter dated April 17 to Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, the Auditor General asked Armour whether she should consider amended statements on the 2023 public financial accounts.

On April 26, Finance Minister Colm Imbert moved a motion (which was later passed) in the Lower House 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.

Imbert said this was necessary because ministry’s officials noted an understatement of $2.6 billion in the 2023 public financial statements.

Before Imbert made that statement in the House on April 26, Annisette-George overruled complaints by Opposition MPs that the Auditor General’s report had been sent to Parliament but Imbert had not laid it as yet.

A report which has been submitted to Parliament but not approved by either the House or the Senate by the passage of a relevant motion, is not available for public viewing in any form or fashion.

Addressing a news conference at UNC headquarters in Chaguanas on May 1, Moonilal said, “When you act in this way, you are undermining the credibility and integrity of financial information.” He said there could be ramifications for TT if its financial reporting/accounting credibility is undermined.

The Auditor General, he continued, “is there to audit your financial management to bring clarity to our expenditure and revenue.”

Referring to his interactions with the Auditor General’s office as chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from 2007 to 2010, Moonilal said this officer’s role is “to state from an independent perspective whether the information that we have is accurate.”

He warned, “If they (government) are not careful, they are undermining the integrity of our financial management and accounting processes and that is very serious.”

Moonilal said Trinidad and Tobago could be viewed negatively by international credit ratings agencies which monitor the financial performance of countries. “They depend on public documents to be accurate, to be transparent.”

Outside of these entities, he continued, Government interacts daily with the banking community (domestic and foreign) and the private sector.

Moonilal warned that if any of these entities view the accuracy of a government’s fiscal management of the economy in a negative light, there is only one outcome – “your country, your economy will collapse.”

Moonilal pondered why Government wanted the Auditor General’s report on the 2023 public financial statements not to be approved by Parliament and for it to be amended to reflect the $2.6 billion understatement that Imbert referred to.

He then produced a document during the media conference.

“I have in my possession what I verily believe to be…I verily and as we say I honestly believe that I have in my possession, excerpts of the Auditor General’s report that was sent to the Speaker, the President of the Senate and the Minister of Finance.”

In this document, Moonilal claimed, there was information alluding to one thing – “They are cooking up the books!”

Turning the pages of this document which he claimed to be 400-pages long, Moonilal said it spoke to several irregularities including people receiving sums of money outside of their regular stipends.

He claimed the document spoke about one official receving rent from three different state agencies for a building, at the same time. He said the report spoke of a state entity paying foreign currency to purchase equipment from a phantom company in an Asian country. “What madness is this?”

Moonilal promised the UNC would disclose other details from this document in the coming days.