Auditor General Deodat Sharma told the Guyana Standard today that a probe will be launched to ascertain the arrangements that led to US$9,000 being transferred to the personal bank account of Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson from the organisers of a 2016 forum in China.
The concerns about the deposit came to the fore after a PPP-affiliated Facebook page leaked the information. Patterson subsequently turned to his Facebook page to correct growing public perceptions in some quarters that the payment could be China’s way of garnering favour for its controversial Belt and Road Initiative.
Patterson said that, in April 2016 via the Chinese Embassy in Guyana, an invitation was extended to him to attend and make a presentation at the 7th International Investment and Construction Forum in Macao, China. The event, which was endorsed by China’s Ministry of Commerce and Macao Special Administrative Region Government, was held on June 2 and 3, 2016 and jointly organised by the China International Contractors Association and Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute.
Patterson said that the organisers committed to reimburse travel-related expenses up to US$10,000. The minister said that the advance for the trip received Cabinet’s blessings and was paid by the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), which falls under the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. Patterson said that the reimbursement was made more than 10 months later.
However, despite Patterson’s explanation, the Auditor General still said that he will probe the issue to ensure everything is “in good order”.
Sharma said, “I have to look into it to ensure what he is saying is correct. I have to check what was borrowed and what was paid back versus how much was paid to the minister. I also have to go through MARAD’s accounts to see how that was done, ensure he had the approval to travel, and ascertain what the arrangements really were and so forth. I have to look into it.”
Furthermore, Minister Patterson noted on his Facebook page that the reimbursement method “is not an unusual practice”.
But, when this news agency contacted Finance Minister Winston Jordan who also travels fairly frequently, he disclosed that he never uses his personal bank account for reimbursements for international travel. In fact, the minister does not agree that Patterson’s case can be considered “a norm”. Rather, he said, Patterson’s case can be called “an exception”.
Even though MARAD has its own account, Jordan posited that perhaps Patterson used his account due to convenience. He added that, once the refund was made, no crime was committed.
In the meantime, Minister Patterson has contacted his lawyers to take the necessary legal action against the PPP which he said illegally sought and obtained access to his personal financial details.