Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis has established a three-man committee to create a greater synergy between the operations of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA’s) divisions and the Office of the Auditor General.
This follows the recent release of the Auditor General’s report, which highlighted irregularities in the THA’s management of covid19 relief support, including food cards, vouchers, rental assistance among other initiatives.
The report covered the period October 2019 to September 2020 and raised concerns about $8.5 million in relief support, noting supporting documents were absent and made it impossible to be certain that the aid went to those it was intended for.
Noting he was fed up seeing politicians use the Auditor General's report to make accusations of impropriety, Dennis said it was time the THA gets its house in order.
On Tuesday he denied the THA had engaged in corruption, claiming the reason procedures weren't stringently followed was because the pandemic forced officials to expedite aid to suffering people.
At the post executive council news conference on Wednesday at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex, Scarborough, Dennis said the committee will be headed by Chief Administrator Bernadette Solomon-Koroma and the chief management accountant within the Office of the Chief Secretary, whom he described as a distinguished Tobagonian highly qualified in accounts.
Dennis said he will also consider putting a member of the audit department on the committee.
The committee has been given one month to come up with suggestions to create greater efficiency within the operation of the respective divisions.
“They will look at the current audit process. They will look at all of the shortcomings of the Tobago House of Assembly, not necessarily with respect the report but the process under which the audit is being conducted to ensure that we change the current status quo,” he said.
Dennis, in the wake of the report, met with Auditor General Lorelly Pujadas and several THA officials on Tuesday.
He said based on the findings and queries raised in the report, there appears to be a long-standing disconnect between the THA and the Auditor General’s office.
“I am not saying that the Auditor General lied on the Tobago House of Assembly. I am saying that there is clearly a disconnect at the level of the audit that is being conducted and documentation requested.”
He added, “For some reason, we are not always, at the level of the Tobago House of Assembly, able to provide accurate and timely information and timely documentation in response to the concerns of the Auditor General.”
Dennis said the findings of the report must be carefully considered.
“We cannot continue to have audit after audit….
"Of course every audit will highlight challenges and the Auditor General’s report must be looked at by us here in Tobago and in the Tobago House of Assembly, because it points us to areas that we should address and it points us to areas which require improvement and therefore it must be looked at in that way. And we intend to look at the report in that way.”
Dennis said the Auditor General’s office is not the enemy of the THA.
He said the office was established to ensure that the financial rules and regulations of the public service are effectively carried out.
“So, where there are weaknesses in the system, the audit will pick that up and we are expected to strengthen the system.”
Dennis also said when one examines the contents of reports over the years, politicians, such as himself, have been unfairly implicated.
“When I look at some of the things that end up in this report and unfairly so, when I look at the fact that politicians like myself and my other colleagues are labelled as thieves and wicked people because of reports like these, something must give.
"And, therefore, we cannot continue to have this kind of arrangement where there is clearly, in my opinion, a disconnect.”
He said it was also “quite unfortunate” that Opposition THA members in the past have also used Auditor General’s reports, to label the governing party as corrupt.
“Not only now, but even in the days of Ashworth Jack and the TOP (Tobago Organisation of the People), when they were in Opposition, the Auditor General’s report has always been used as a document to suggest that politicians within the Tobago House of Assembly are corrupt, thief, liars, wicked and other things.”
Dennis observed the members of the Progressive Democratic Patriots were following the same modus operandi
On Monday, PDP deputy political leader Farley Augustine called for the concerns highlighted in the report to be thoroughly investigated.