During today’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill and former Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region 10, Orrin Gordon went head to head over cheques that were supposed to be returned to the Consolidated Fund. The cheques in question were for some unfinished capital projects in Region 10.
During the session, Edghill referenced that the Auditor General’s 2019 report which noted that there were 13 cheques in the possession of the regional administrative unit for works that were not completed by a contractor. These cheques were part of a larger sum of 1,053 cheques totalling $775M that were cut by the Ministry of Finance for current and capital expenditure incurred by the regional administration.
Egdhill revealed that instead of returning the cheques to the Consolidated Fund by the end of the year as stipulated by Section 43 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, the cheques were kept by the region to pay the contractor instead of being rolled over to the next year’s budget—which is an unauthorized action.
Section 43 of the Act reads “Except as otherwise provided in this Act or in any other law, at the end of each fiscal year, any unexpended balance of public moneys issued out of the Consolidated Fund shall be returned and surrendered to the Consolidated Fund”.
In his defense, Gordon noted that there was an understanding that if the contractor was supposed to complete specific works by a specific time and the works are incomplete then the system holds the payment in its possession until work is completed. He further noted, “ I am not going to come here and indicate that the system was perfect the system was not a perfect system but is a system that allowed for the entity to complete its work and get its work done within the time without any you know, acrimony occurring between the client and the contractor.”
Edghill insisted that once the works were not completed the cheques were to be returned to the consolidated fund and the monies to be paid for the incomplete aspects of the project as well as whatever else was due, would be accounted for under the budget for the proceeding year and as such, the withholding of the cheques still constituted a breach.
Gordon rebutted, noting that if his actions constituted a breach then perhaps the government should look toward adjusting its policies to cater for these scenarios. “So if as you said, there’s a real data breach, then I’m saying that the system needs to be adjusted to ensure that you don’t have those situations coming towards the end of the year.”
He added that the matter was fully ventilated with the Auditor General’s Office, where the region indicated the challenges which would have been obtained at the time in the circumstances.