THE Auditor General has interviewed heads of agencies in the Ministry of Finance to report on public spending, but on Wednesday a call was made to also meet the permanent secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Finance who is the overall accounting officer.
The call came from Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie, chairman of Parliamentâs Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which on Wednesday discussed the Auditor Generalâs Report on the Public Accounts of TT 2018. The committee met top officials of the Auditor Generalâs Department, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Attorney General, Board of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise Division.
Ministry of Finance PS Vishnu Dhanpaul lamented aloud that he had never been afforded an exit interview with the Auditor Generalâs Department, saying that could have averted errors being published in the Auditor Generalâs Report.
Pujadas touted the independence of her office. She said her department had interviewed the heads of all agencies such as the Comptroller of Accounts, Board of Inland Revenue chairman and Customs and Excise Division chairman. “I think that over the years we have not afforded the accounting officer, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, the opportunity to take part in those exit meeting discussions, and I think we may have erred over the years. We will certainly seek to address that going forward, recognising that the accounting officer for all of these entities is the permanent secretary.”
Tewarie pressed for clarity. Pujadas said it would be right to engage the PS.
Tewarie told Pujadas that such an engagement with that PS would not have compromised the independence of her office, as he defined independence as the capacity to hold oneâs ground or adjust it on the basis of reasoned persuasion.
He added that the PS was free to articulate his view and that could be weighed by the Auditor General as an independent officer.
“I do believe an interface at that level would be a desirable thing.”
He said that should be done for critical ministries for a 12-month period, without any attempt to compromise the independence of the Auditor General and her office.
“Once we compromise the independence of that office, the whole game is finished.”
Pujadas said it was standard practice to speak to permanent secretaries, but that was not done this time as all unit heads were met and her office had faced tough time constraints.
Tewarie used the occasion to lament the non-use of ICT in TT Public Service.
“It is kind of shameful for TT to be in this position,” he said. “It is also holding back the private sector.”
Tewarie said the lack of ICT subverts the development of the whole of TT, whose 1.4 million population he said was merely the same as that of “a little village in Nigeria,” or in India or China.
He lamented the stalling of procurement reform. The existing Central Tenders Board Act excludes special purpose companies and government to government deals.
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