Public Accounts, Auditor General’s report laid in Parliament

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Colm Imbert –

FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert kept his promise to lay the original, unamended version of the Public Accounts and the accompanying Auditor General’s report on Friday in the House of Representatives, but then made a strongly-worded statement on the imbroglio with Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass.

While Leader of the House Camille Robinson-Regis laid several papers at the start of the sitting, as is the norm, Imbert only laid his papers midway in the sitting when MPs, by a majority vote, agreed to suspend the debate on an Opposition motion on the health sector. The sitting was Private Member’s Day.

“I have the honour to lay the Report of the Auditor General…” Imbert said, creating a mild stir along the Opposition bench.

“Don’t talk too soon,” he advised, then teased: “of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on the Financial Statements of the Point Fortin Civic Centre for the year ended September 30, 2012.”

Moments later, he laid the Public Accounts and Auditor General’s Report.

Imbert, in a ministerial statement on the two documents, was then very critical of Ramdass’ actions and role in the controversy.

He urged her to promptly address the admitted errors in the Public Accounts.

“Because of the public disquiet and the stark difference of opinion surrounding this issue, and the need for Parliament and the public to be properly and accurately informed on the revenue collected and payments made for the service of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, it is expected that this special report on the public accounts for the financial year 2023 will be completed and submitted in the shortest possible time, and certainly by August 31, which is the extended date for reporting on the accounts for financial year 2023,” Imbert said.

He said counsel advised that Ramdass’ initial refusal to accept fresh documents was “unlawful and irrational.”

With the auditor general not accepting fresh documents relevant to errors in the accounts until April 16, Imbert complained that on April 24, she had both sent his ministry a management letter, and submitted her report to the Houses of Parliament and him. Imbert said her initial refusal to accept amended documents likely delayed her consideration of them for quite some time.

He lament her failure to hold an exit interview with ministry staff before sending the management letter.

“In the circumstances, the Auditor General’s said refusal, particularly when considered together with her conduct subsequently to her eventual acceptance of those accounts, as discussed below, have raised concerns that whether intentionally or not, the Ministry of Finance was denied a reasonable and timely opportunity to correct or explain the error made in the original Treasury Statements.

“And to verify the increase in revenue resulting from the correction of that error, before the Auditor General’s Report was submitted to Speaker and the President.”

He said past auditor general reports of the public accounts were dated late April.

“Unfortunately, when viewed against that history, the Auditor General’s inexplicable rush to submit the Auditor General’s Report to the Speaker and the President at the same time as seeking comments and answers from the Ministry with respect to that report and the Amended Public Accounts, is even more alarming and makes the early submission more curious.”