Georgetown, GY – The recently released Auditor General report indicates a troubling state of public financial management across public agencies including government ministries and regional administrations. There are numerous cases of financial mismanagement, breaches of public procurement laws, and management inefficiencies that are draining scarce public resources. For the fiscal year, 2017, taxpayers lost more than $1 billion in overpayments to contractors, payments for goods without any vouchers, and payments for good that were not delivered, according to the report. A review of previous years audit reports suggests that these problems are systemic, deeply entrenched, and costing taxpayers billions over the years. This raises the question of whether lawmakers pay attention to these findings and their commitment to ensuring taxpayers money are used transparently and efficiently to benefit society.
Public audits are meant to provide lawmakers and taxpayers with an assessment of how well public agencies deliver public services, whether they have operated within their budgets, and more importantly, whether they have executed their functions consistent with good public financial management practices. Audits, therefore, can be used as a tool to identify and tackle inefficiency, mismanagement, waste, and fight corruption if lawmakers take them seriously and act on their recommendations. Taxpayers foot the bill of $750 million a year on average to finance the operations of the Audit Office of Guyana. Not taking these audits and their recommendations seriously and holding agency heads accountable amount to encouraging the abuse of public resources and the non-compliance of good public financial management practices. It also undermines public trust and confidence in the government.
As a poor country, there is not enough money to pay for all of society’s needs at once. Every year, the government takes on billions of dollars in new debt to supplement tax revenues to finance its budget priorities. Tax revenues are monies taxpayers pay upfront while debts are monies they must repay in the future. These are monies people are giving to the government to use in a sensible way to benefit society and build a strong economy. It is incumbent on the government to ensure these funds are used in a transparent and efficient manner and in full compliance of public financial management laws. When public resources are mismanaged, wasted, or used for corrupt activities, taxpayers are not only robbed of the benefits for their tax dollars but still must repay all debts.
The government which currently has control over parliament has the ultimate authority to enforce existing regulations or implement new rules and regulations to reign in mismanagement and abuse of taxpayers’ money. The Public Accounts Committee, a parliamentary sub-committee, which has oversight of the audit office lacks the authority to enforce fiscal management and accountability rules and regulations. The Audit Act of 2004 empowers the Auditor General to request the Director of Public Prosecution and Commissioner of Police to take appropriate action and prosecute offenders where he believes an offense was committed. Unfortunately, the definition of what constitutes an ‘offense’ in the Act does not include the mismanagement and abuse of public funds, the violation of public procurement laws, or corruption. The current lack of enforcement and the failure to hold agency heads and other public officials accountable contribute to the persistent and severity of mismanagement, abuse and waste.
Lawmakers can disagree on policy priorities and how best to move the country forward. What they should not disagree on is ensuring taxpayers’ money are used efficiently and transparently to address public needs. The Guyana Budget Policy Institute urge lawmakers on both sides of the house to take necessary and immediate actions to stop the abuse and mismanagement of public resources.
* Boamattie Singh is the Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer of the Guyana Budget & Policy Institute.
Singh, Boamattie (2018). Audit Report Can Boost Accountability and Efficiency if the Government takes them Seriously. Policy Blog. November 2018. Guyana Budget Policy Institute.